SHRL Faculty-in-Residence Program Fosters Academic and Social Ties

In a strategic move to blend academic and residential experiences, the University of Houston (UH) proudly champions its Faculty-in-Residence (FIR) Program. This innovative collaboration between the Divisions of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs aims to strengthen the connection between students' academic and residential learning experiences.

The FIR Program brings together faculty members from various disciplines who live on campus and work closely with Student Housing & Residential Life (SHRL) professionals to enhance students' overall learning, engagement and success. Research has shown that interactions with faculty outside the classroom positively impact GPA, degree completion, and the overall college experience (Davenport, A. M., & Pasque, P. A. (2014). Adding Breadth and Depth to College and University Residential Communities: A Phenomenological Study of Faculty-in-Residence. Journal of College & University Student Housing, 41(1).

"While my wife was tutoring one of our students, it came up that I enjoyed playing the soccer video game FIFA. At the end of the semester, after doing well on his exam, the student asked if I was up for playing FIFA. We had an impromptu gathering with some playing video games and others discussing Marvel comic characters, investing in sneakers, and summer plans,” said Gilbertson.

Jerrod A. Henderson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Cullen College of Engineering has taken a keen interest in the FIR Program. Dedicated to increasing the number of students pursuing STEM careers, Henderson is the co-founder of the St. Elmo Brady STEM Academy, an initiative aimed at exposing underrepresented students to hands-on STEM activities. Henderson’s reach through the FIR Program extends beyond the regular academic year to impact residents during the summer months.

"As a FIR in Cougar Village II, I've designed a faculty-led learning abroad experience around the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges, inviting students to explore global problem-solving. To make myself more accessible, I host multiple programs and pop-up meet-and-greets, encouraging students to engage with engineering and connect with the resources available on campus. As an FIR, I see myself as a connector, ready to link students to the resources they need for success,” said Henderson.

Ted Ingwersen, Ph.D., associate director of Residential Life, highlights the unique role of FIRs in demonstrating academic culture. “The FIRs actively yet informally demonstrate academic culture through their presence and visibility in the communities. However, the best interactions are those that we rarely hear about such as the individual relationships they develop with students who oftentimes simply need someone to guide them through everyday life. We are very proud of the holistic work they do and thankful for their dedication to students,” said Ingwersen.

Melody Yunzi Li, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Chinese Studies, brings her passion for teaching and cultural engagement to the FIR Program at Cougar Village I. With expertise in Asian diaspora literature and modern Chinese culture, Li emphasizes collaborative study sessions and cultural events. She expressed the importance of group engagement for learning development.

"The collaborative study sessions not only provide students with a more casual study space to study and connect with their fellow residents but also give opportunities for them to form a bond with each other and me,” said Li.

Lyle McKinney, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Higher Education Leadership & Policy Studies Program in the College of Education and FIR for University Lofts, believes that residence halls are powerful spaces that can significantly enhance students' sense of belonging and connection to the university.

“From Move-in weekend until graduation day, the goal is to create a living community where students really feel like they are ‘seen and heard.’ And probably even more foundational than that, is for students to know the professional and student staff in their residence hall truly do care about their well-being and success,” said McKinney. “UH is a big place and many residents aren’t initially aware of all the academic support and student organizations available to them. So, by partnering with organizations across campus and inviting them into the residence halls, it makes it easier for residents to find their ‘niche’ and affinity groups across campus.”

McKinney’s focus is centered on creating a vibrant living community where students feel heard, understood and supported throughout their academic journey.

Todd Romero, Ph.D., an associate professor of history and associate dean of undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Social Sciences, brings a wealth of experience to the FIR Program at The Quad.

In his fourth year as a FIR, Romero addresses the challenges students face when arriving at a large, state institution. He sees his role as a resource for residents, guiding them toward campus resources, such as financial aid, scholarships, mentoring opportunities and student clubs. Highlighting the diverse and accomplished student body, Romero expressed his admiration for interactions through the FIR Program.

"Students come from backgrounds that represent the globe. They are incredibly accomplished, incredibly talented, and they bring all kinds of knowledge that I'm always eager to learn more about. I'm always energized by the excitement they bring to campus and their passion for the world,” said Romero.

Kavita Singh, Ph.D., an English professor, adds to the diverse fabric of the FIR programming at the Cougar Place. Specializing in Caribbean literature and culture, she is passionate about language, performance, and popular culture. Born in Guyana and fluent in Spanish and French, Singh brings a global perspective to residence life, fostering an environment where cultural awareness and academic pursuits intertwine. Reflecting on her role as a FIR, Singh shared an affinity for relationship building.

"Being an FIR allows me to connect with students who bring a range of backgrounds, experiences, energy, and motivation to their time here. Through various events, I can engage with these exciting, incredible and interesting human beings,” said Singh.

In addition to her commitment to fostering connections within Cougar Place, Singh is planning to extend the cultural and educational experience beyond the residence hall. She intends to invite interested and selected residents of Cougar Place to join her students, who are enrolled in one of her courses, to watch theatre performances in the city during the spring semester.

This initiative builds on Singh's past involvement with the residents, where she took 10 residents to watch the opera in the last semester. Additionally, she organized bi-weekly study halls and engaged with resident students over dinner on weekends.

These dedicated faculty members, along with others in the FIR Program, play a pivotal role in creating a vibrant and supportive environment for students at UH. Through diverse programming, impromptu interactions and a commitment to building a strong community, the FIR Program contributes significantly to the overall development and success of students, making UH a hub of academic and social growth.

Written by Somdatta Basu, marketing manager, Student Housing & Residential Life Photos by Anuraag Shah