STRATEGIC PLANNING

4. Enrich The Quality Of Campus Life

It’s a sweltering move-in day in late August, and more than 2,000 Old Dominion University freshmen are trying to get their bearings on a new campus, their home for the next four years. At all of the freshman residence halls, it’s a hum of activity, as nervous parents and excited kids unpack belongings.

Carole Henry, ODU’s executive director for housing and residence life, is attempting to be everywhere this day. But, for the moment, a phone call keeps her in the office. It’s from a very concerned mom. Her son was drawn into a four-student apartment with three upperclassmen. Mom’s worried that her son will have trouble fitting in, possibly jeopardizing his university experience.

Speaking in a reassuring voice, Henry advises the family not to switch rooms right away. Maybe the student will like his new apartment and roommates, and if he doesn’t, the University Village Apartments are high-demand units, and will be easy to trade. Mom calms down after a few minutes.

Crisis averted, Henry heads out the door to cross off the next of several hundred things on her to-do list. “There’s always something,” she says with a smile.

Henry is one of countless employees whose job includes helping to realize Goal No. 4 of ODU’s Strategic Plan.

The university has undergone a dramatic transformation to become a more residential campus. With more than 4,500 beds, it has more than quadrupled the number of a decade ago.

“In many ways, a strong residence life program is the lifeblood of a university, as well as a strong conduit to administration,” said Henry. “You’re helping shape people who are connected to a campus community. I think that is infectious.”

That in turn leads to students who have a better chance to succeed, academically and socially, and are more likely to stay at ODU the full four years, she added.

One of the new innovations of the Office of Housing and Residence Life is the creation of “Living Learning Communities,” where students with common goals, challenges and interests can meet and help each other through their shared experience of academic life.

Henry reminds her staff that the students under their charge are learning and growing 24 hours a day. “One of the comments that we use is that learning occurs everywhere. It’s a seamless environment,” she explained. “We are trying really to enhance the quality of the undergraduate experience.”

Overall, Goal No. 4 has as its chief aim creating a vibrant residential campus with a multicultural community that respects individuality, as ODU strives to become known as a student- centered university. Other initiatives call for adding programming to increase student-faculty interaction both inside and outside the classroom, which is seen as “critically important in achieving intellectual engagement,” and developing a Sophomore Success program to focus on service learning, career exploration and study abroad opportunities.

Efforts to enhance student learning and engagement outside the classroom got a major boost last year when the Office of Student Activities and Leadership moved – along with the Student Government Association, student newspaper, radio station and various other student organizations – into spacious new headquarters in Webb Center.

“The students have owned this place from the beginning,” said OSAL director Nicole Kiger. “They want it open 24 hours.”

The user-friendly space is part of a concerted effort ODU has undertaken in recent years to encourage participation in extracurricular activities by all students, which included the opening of a modern Student Recreation Center last year.

Kiger said the growth in the campus community is incredible since she started at ODU nine years ago.

“Now, the students are around, the students are in Webb, and there are all these little communities. It’s so great. Students want that experience when they come here.”