Wesleyan to fuse students' academic, social lives

2010-08-24T10:30:00Z 2010-08-26T07:42:18Z Wesleyan to fuse students' academic, social livesBy KEVIN ABOUREZK / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
August 24, 2010 10:30 am  • 

Living in a dormitory, Brandon Schlautman doesn't have much opportunity to go green.

He hasn't changed a lightbulb in the two years he's lived on the Nebraska Wesleyan University campus and thus hasn't had the chance to use environmentally friendly compact fluorescent bulbs.

Not being a homeowner, he hasn't purchased energy-efficient appliances or installed eco-friendly rain barrels to collect runoff.

"Most of the stuff is provided for you so you have no chance to be green," the Wesleyan junior said of dorm living. "Living in a green environment means you have to be aware of what you're doing all the time."

Still, it is his hope he can learn to live green this academic year by sharing a house with seven other Wesleyan students interested in the environment.

In the next step of an ongoing effort to fuse students' academic and residential lives, Wesleyan administrators have created themed housing for 19 students.

They'll live in two houses near campus. The Green House is focused on the environment; the Dream House on helping children achieve their dreams.

The intent is to have the students in those houses complete at least one project each semester related to their themes.

The houses are for juniors and seniors only, but Wesleyan is also creating themed residential living for first-year students taking a class called "Decoding ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.'"

The 15 students enrolled in that class will live in the same pod in Centennial Hall on campus. Administrators hope the arrangement will ease their transition into college, as well as teach them valuable life and academic skills.

"My hope is that they will learn a lot about their goal, their theme, but also learn a lot about living in a community," said Provost Judy Muyskens, who oversees student life and academic affairs. "What a great experience to prepare to work closely with people, people who are very different from you."

Meghan Winchell, associate professor of history, has taught the "Buffy" course for the past four years.

She said students in the class often gather to watch episodes of the TV series, which details a teenage girl's efforts to fight vampires, demons and other evil forces. The series offers lessons on the trials of adolescence and college life, and touches on historical events like the Salem Witch Trials.

Winchell explores both the social and historical themes, and teaches students critical thinking skills that can be applied to the TV shows and films they watch as well as the news they consume, she said.

Now, in addition to sharing an academic experience, her students can share a social experience.

"What happens in the dorms connects to the classroom," she said. "We want them to learn that academics are relevant to every aspect of their lives."

Meanwhile, eight students will live in the Wesleyan-owned Green House at the corner of 48th Street and Saint Paul Avenue, and 11 in the Dream House, a former sorority house at 52nd and Madison Avenue.

Kelli Raile, a junior elementary education major from Grand Island, is chair of the Dream House. She said she knows all but one of the students who will live there. In fact, three are her former roommates.

"We love kids," she said. "That's why we decided to really do something with kids."

The group has considered hosting a weekend workshop for children and an assembly for students at nearby Huntington or Riley elementary schools.

"We might do one (project) a month," Raile said. "We might do one a semester. It just depends."

Schlautman of Lincoln, who is undeclared at Wesleyan and chairs the Green House, said those in his house hope to gain a greater understanding of what it means to live green, beyond what popular culture tells them.

By beginning to live in a more eco-friendly manner and teaching others to do the same, he hopes the students will learn important character attributes, such as discipline and the ability to empower others.

"Our life and the resources of our planet were given to us to be shared with everybody," he said. "It's necessary to figure out the best way to use those resources."

He said the group may work with elementary students to teach them environmentally friendly practices, as well as the importance of exercise. They've also considered writing a newsletter or organizing a community crops program at Wesleyan.

"It's really in the planning stages," he said. "It's never been done before. It's exciting to see how we'll work with one another."

One thing, he said, is for certain: "We'll learn how to be people."

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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