For incoming freshmen, the transition from high school to college life does not have to be a lonely one. Through the Sam Center, Dr. Bernice Strauss created the Bearkat Learning Community in 2001which is ongoing today.
The community is a way for students from all walks of life to live together and connect, forming their own intimate community within the Sam Houston campus.
The Bearkat Learning Community helps freshmen develop and hone their studies, as well as provide a medium for social interaction.
“I’ve seen the breakdown of what we would consider initial barriers. When you walk into a situation, very often students connect with a certain type of people, they connect with similar people, who have the same look as they do, the same activities,” Resident Advisor Clair Collins said.
“This community breaks down these barriers. By pulling everybody together like this, you don’t get to judge people on where they’re from, what their background is, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation – that’s not a factor here.”
Participants enter the BLC after applying for the program, rather than being selected. Each prospective student applies or interviews personally with Dr. Strauss before entering the program.
“What’s interesting is students self-select for this program. They hear about the program. I really feel like it’s got a certain momentum that we have a group that’s particularly enthusiastic that really want to not only benefit from, but make a contribution to, Sam,” Strauss said.
In addition to living together, BLC-ers must take two core classes, participate in a study skills series, and also perform community service and volunteer projects.
The community lives in two dorms on campus, Vick and Spivey Houses. Living together allows the students to further bond after-hours.
“Unlike the big dorms you get to meet everybody in your dorms, so you feel more a sense of community,” said Jeff Rambo, president of the house. “I like the study sessions because it gets you thinking about college – how you should be acting instead of how you started acting. It helps your study skills improve.”
“The difference here in a small house with the Bearkat Learning Community is that the students live together and take classes together and do their extracurriculars together. They’re more like a family than just a regular dorm could be. It’s really commonplace to walk out at any time and have anywhere from 10 to 20 residents hanging out in the lobby and playing on a Wii or watching a movie on Reslife cinema.”
Last Wednesday, the BLC-ers had a house dinner, one of the community’s regular activities, and presentation by Mike Yawn.
“I think it’s good to build community within the university. I think it’s good to give students a support network so that they can rely on each other and on faculty and on staff,” Mike Yawn said. “I think Bernice Strauss has done a wonderful job cultivating this and giving students empowerment so they can help one another and contribute to the overall goals of the university.”
“I think this is a great program, and it’s a real privilege to work with students and staff to put this great program on,” he said.
“We set the wheels in motion and provide opportunities, but they make it happen,” Strauss said. “It’s the grout, the connection that they form that makes them want to do the work and come back next semester because their friends and their community are here.”