Four new Living-Learning Programs (LLPs) will be implemented in fall 2021: Aurora, an interfaith community; GenerationOne, for students who are the first in their families to go to college; Rhizome, for students interested in tackling intersecting global challenges through project-based learning; and the Creativity and Innovation District LLP, which brings together diverse student populations. The addition of the new LLPs bring the total number of Living-Learning Programs at Virginia Tech to 20.

“Virginia Tech is a big place, and the transition to college is monumental for most of our students. In addition, we’re a university deeply committed to diversity, inclusion, accessibility — and the way we support students from diverse backgrounds is critical for success,” said Frank Shushok, vice president for student affairs. “Living-Learning Programs do all sorts of important things, none more critical than easing the transition to college, offering students immediate mentorship, and providing a home base that gives students confidence to take risks in the larger Virginia Tech learning laboratory. Given how formative Living-Learning Programs have been to the success of our students, it is only natural for us to increase the number of these opportunities.”

One of the milestones outlined in the university's strategic plan, The Virginia Tech Difference: Advancing Beyond Boundaries, is to have 67 percent of students in Living-Learning Programs by 2024. In fall 2013, the number was 25.2 percent. By fall 2020, the number had risen to 38.9 percent.

Students currently in LLPs say the experience gives them a sense of belonging, a support system, and has changed them in positive ways.

Ciara Hampton, a sophomore majoring in cognitive and behavioral neuroscience in the College of Science, is a member of the Ujima community. “I love the sense of community, the events, and the bonding that occurs in an LLP,” Hampton said. “You meet so many people with the same interests and passions. I was able to make friends and get involved much more easily. I now have a wonderful support system that has my back no matter what the circumstances may be. Being part of an LLP has made me more willing to get help and rely on others for support. I am also more open to becoming a part of other communities that share the same interests as I do. What I am learning in Ujima definitely compliments what I am learning in the classroom because teamwork and inclusiveness are major aspects of Virginia Tech as a whole.”

Caroline Gardner, a first-year student majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise (HNFE) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is a member of the Meraki community. “When I applied, I thought it would be a great way to meet some great people. I was right! It has made me much more comfortable and at home at Tech,” Gardner said. “I have gotten to do lots of fun activities with the community, such as hikes, a bonfire, the pumpkin patch, and more. It’s been so great to have this group of people I’m lucky enough to call my friends. Being part of Meraki has changed the way I experience VT and the Meraki class has taught me skills to improve my well-being and take care of myself. These well-being skills relate to the material I am studying in HNFE.”

Three members of a Living-Learning Program chat outside while wearing face masks.

Three members of a Living-Learning Program chat outside while wearing face masks.
Students in LLPs say the experience gives them a sense of belonging and a support system. Photo by Luke Williams for Virginia Tech.

The four new LLPs for fall 2021 are:

  • Aurora, the interfaith LLP, which promotes religious pluralism as a way to help students practice civility and pursue self-understanding and integrity. Students from diverse worldviews and belief systems living in this community will have curricular and co-curricular experiences with their peers and interact with faculty, providing them opportunities to learn and grow as they engage across lines of difference and develop interfaith leadership skills for social change. “Our goal is to create an environment where students can bring their whole selves, reflect on their values, learn with one another, expand their interfaith literacy, and engage in service for the common good,” said Najla Mouchrek, coordinator of student experiences and advocacy in the Dean of Students Office and director for the Interfaith Program.
  • GenerationOne, an LLP centered on supporting and cultivating first-generation student success, will be broadly supported by first-generation faculty and staff, student support services on campus, and academic departments. The community will feature programming that engages students in leadership development; provides faculty, staff, and peer mentorship; and provides student support. “Our goal is to create an environment where students feel a sense of community, promote lifelong learning, welcome diverse ideas, instill values, and cultivate a strong academic identity,” said Charmaine Troy, program director for First-Generation Student Support.
  • Rhizome offers a unique residential experience for students who are interested in tackling intersecting global challenges. In a dedicated residential setting within the Creativity and Innovation District LLP, Rhizome gives students the time and space to work together on long-term projects that are specifically designed to develop ways of thinking that are essential for solving pressing global issues. “By understanding the interconnected aspects of global challenges, we open a space for creative collaborations and practical interventions to emerge through project-based learning,” said Vanessa Guerra, a faculty member in environmental design and planning in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. Rhizome will be recruiting first-year students beginning December 2020. 
  • The Creativity and Innovation District LLP (CID LLP) will be home to Studio 72, Innovate, Rhizome, and to many student-athletes. The 225,000-gross-square-foot residential building, designed to house 596 students, will include innovative spaces, such as performance and practice studios, maker spaces, collaboration and research areas, and creative lounges. Timothy D. Baird, associate professor of geography at Virginia Tech, will serve as faculty principal for the CID LLP.

Applications for LLPs for current students are now open and will close on Nov. 13, 2020.

“There are many exciting options for students to choose from,” said Matt Kwiatkowski, associate director for academic initiatives for Student Affairs Housing and Residence Life. “These are specialized communities where students can live with other students who have common interests, majors, or identities. From arts and creativity, to engineering and the sciences, and everything in between, there is a community for everyone. Of our 20 LLPs, 14 are open to students next year regardless of if they are currently in the community or not.”

Information about LLP options is available online. Questions can be directed to livinglearning@vt.edu

Written by Sandy Broughton