Living Learning communities Research shows that learning communities can smooth first-year transitions and improve freshman retention and graduation rates. With the successful 2012-13 launch of Bellarmine’s Galileo Learning Community, the university is going ahead with plans to build several other livinglearning communities. This fall, Bellarmine will launch the four-year Eureka Learning Community for students studying science, technology, engineering and math, as well as the two-year Brown Learning Community, refashioned from the Brown Scholars Program, which is being phased out. Bellarmine’s Honors Learning Community, open to any student with an ACT of 28 or above, also has an optional housing component for residential students. “The aim is to make the transition from high school to university as stress-free as possible, and all the research shows one key way to make sure students are retained is to have them connected to a group,” said Dr. Graham Ellis, assistant vice-president for academic affairs, who is helping guide the new efforts. “When we look at student athletes, who have some of the highest retention rates – a lot of that is because they’re part of a group that works together and plays together.” The idea of learning communities isn’t new, but they have expanded at universities nationwide in recent years. Studies show that learning-community students get better grades, adjust well to higher academic demands and develop close relationships. Those findings ring true for Galileo students. “As a freshman, I knew absolutely nobody. It was like coming in blind,” said Haley Wienke, 19, who is from Illinois and lives down the hall from Ms. Rodríguez. “Galileo has given me a chance to talk to people, to adjust to the academics and grow as a person.” The idea to start such a program at Bellarmine arose several years ago, Dr. Ellis said, but it gained steam with the help of a $1 million J. Graham Brown Foundation grant. In the spring of 2012, the university hired two new full-time instructors solely dedicated to the program. By summer they were recruiting students who planned majors from exercise science to pre-med and pre-physical therapy, all of 28 BELLARM INE MAGAZINE whom would live and learn together under the theme of “mind, body and spirit.” “At first I wasn’t really sure. It was the first year,” said Michael Helton, 19, who is from Northern Kentucky and followed his older sister to Bellarmine. “But they talked about the benefits. Because you’re living side by side and taking classes, you’re more comfortable to be yourself and ask questions.” Ultimately, more than 90 students, including Mr. Helton, signed up for Galileo’s first year. Three-quarters of them live on campus; the rest participate as commuter students. Students, whose rooms are separated by gender on different floors of Kennedy-Newman Hall, take five courses together throughout the year, including freshman English, science and interdisciplinary courses, along with outside coursework. Both Ms. Rodríguez and her roommate, Ms. Sikorski, plan to pursue degrees in nursing – Sikorski in pediatric oncology and Rodríguez in nurse anesthesiology. They often mull these career goals at night, along with course tips and professors’ expectations.
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