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New faculty principals bring dedication to student learning to their roles

May 3, 2017

Danna Agmon and Pablo Taragaza have been selected new faculty principals for living-learning communities.

Danna Agmon and Pablo Taragaza, new faculty principals.
Danna Agmon, assistant professor of history, and Pablo Tarazaga, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, have been selected faculty principals for the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston and the Honors Residential Commons at East Ambler Johnston living-learning communities.

East and West Ambler Johnston residence halls will welcome two new faculty principals this summer.

Pablo Tarazaga, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and principal faculty in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, has been selected to serve as faculty principal for the Honors Residential Commons at East Ambler Johnston. Danna Agmon, assistant professor of history and core faculty for the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) interdisciplinary doctoral program, will be the faculty principal for the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston.

The two professors both became interested in the residential college model after observing the benefits of integrating learning into daily life in a community that values different perspectives.

“The residential colleges offer faculty a truly unique opportunity: a way to be part of a large research institution while experiencing the kind of close student relationships that are more typically only accessible in small liberal arts colleges,” said Agmon. “I hope to create a vibrant intellectual community, one in which students talk to one another, to other faculty members, and to me on issues most engaging to their curiosity and imagination.”

As faculty principals, Agmon and Tarazaga will live among students in the living-learning communities and facilitate lectures, social activities, and educational programs that bring faculty and guests from around the world into the residential college.

“Learning takes many forms and happens in many places,” said Tarazaga. “In the university setting, we want to make sure we value a comprehensive learned-life; a place where we ourselves learn while at the same time showing others what that might embody. This is hard to do in a classroom-only setting. Students can learn many things from previous generations. In that aspect, we are all students. In a community, one of the greatest things I have learned is that failure is acceptable and valuable and common. In isolation, we just try to outdo each other’s accomplishments, but in community we hold strong.”

Tarazaga and Agmon have demonstrated a deep dedication to students and their learning. Both emphasize the importance of fostering intentional learning in the residence halls.

“As a student, my most profound and meaningful learning experiences came from my interactions with other students, whether through research collaborations, reading groups, or chats over assignments and reading. The students in the residential colleges are positioned to have these experiences regularly,” said Agmon. “As faculty principal, I see a big part of my role as building spaces for the students to have these intellectual exchanges with one another.”

East and West Ambler Johnston halls are situated under the same roof, and both offer unique learning opportunities to the Virginia Tech community. Both are based on the residential college model, where undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty live together in a facility dedicated to knowledge. This learning-focused environment melds the residence hall experience with classroom learning while creating an academic “family” of mentors and students.

“While ‘dorms’ have been seen as places for students to eat and sleep while getting an education, a residential college is designed to be part of the fabric of a student’s education,” said Frank Shushok, senior associate vice president for Student Affairs and associate professor of higher education. “Together, the diverse members of these living-learning communities will open up the intellectual habit of questions, discussions, and analysis they will take with them beyond Virginia Tech.”

East Ambler Johnston is home to more than 300 university honors students, while West Ambler Johnston consists of four “houses” of 200 students apiece, each led by an assistant principal, a live-in graduate fellow, and two undergraduate resident advisors.

“My wife and children and I are looking forward to the many relationships that we hope to develop with the students, faculty, and staff. That is something we will cherish for the rest of our lives, and we are ready to get started,” said Tarazaga. “As I tell my graduate students, what we are building now is not only a degree for you, but a relationship for life. Today you are my student, tomorrow we are business partners, and in the future, who knows, you might be my daughter’s teacher.”

“As most faculty members will likely agree, teaching can be truly exhilarating,” said Agmon. “There is a certain kind of adrenaline rush that comes after a class that went really well, when I feel like the students made a breakthrough, and, just as importantly, I learned from them in the course of class. The fact that the residential college allows for those kind of interactions on a daily basis will be, I am sure, immensely gratifying.”       

To learn more about Virginia Tech’s 16 living-learning communities, visit the Housing and Residence Life living-learning webpage. New students may apply to live in a living-learning community online. Contact living-learning programs, or Housing and Residence Life for more information.

Written by Madeline Sault, of Arlington, Virginia, a senior triple majoring in business information technology, professional and technical writing, and English creative writing in the Pamplin College of Business and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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