Honors residential community expands learning opportunities, perspectives

Eric Kaufman speaks with students at a tea held in the Kaufman family’s apartment in East Ambler Johnston Hall.

Eric Kaufman speaks with students at a tea held in the Kaufman family’s apartment in East Ambler Johnston Hall.

By Amy Loeffler

As students in the Honors Residential College in East Ambler Johnston Hall recently awaited the arrival of Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands, the hallways were filled with the characteristically excited chatter in anticipation of an honored guest — as well as the unbridled giggles of a young child as she was being hoisted above the shoulders of an East Ambler Johnston resident.

Not the typical scenario you might associate with the undergraduate experience, but at the Honors Residential College, intergenerational mingling and informal learning are not just the norm, they’re encouraged as part of the academic experience.

Eric Kaufman, faculty principal and associate professor of leadership education, his wife, Shevon, 9-year-old son, Ethan, and 6-year-old daughter, Sara, live in the Honors Residential College along with 320 honors students, 28 of whom are from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Honors Residential College“My family and I are thrilled to be in this environment,” said Kaufman, who enjoys frequent informal opportunities to interact with students outside the classroom. Students who live here are welcome to visit with the Kaufmans and discuss anything from their academic careers to personal matters.

“Living among faculty expands students’ viewpoint and helps them to think about what their priorities are for life — not just as freshmen in college,” said Kaufman.

Building intellectual curiosity is also a priority at the Honors Residential College. Students who reside here are taught to regularly think about concepts they learn in class and how they overlap with other disciplines.

Alexa Turner, 20, a junior majoring in animal and poultry sciences from Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania, said that the interdisciplinary thinking that is fostered here has helped her to reconsider her own agriculture-based major through various academic lenses.

“I really like the idea that I can come from a class about designing animal chutes, and my friend who lives in the college who is majoring in engineering can actually suggest ways it can be done with steel,” said Turner.

During President Sands’ recent visit, he asked the crowd a rhetorical question: “What is the value of an honors education?”

“The honors community is a natural opportunity for diversity,” said Sands. “The whole culture here is remarkable. We’ve seen there is a strong correlation between having a mentor and thriving.”

Emily Brittingham, 20, a human nutrition, foods and exercise major from Lexington, South Carolina, exemplifies the value of mentorship in the college.

“I enjoy talking to the Kaufmans,” she said. “I like that I can walk down the hall and ask advice and bounce ideas off of them about my career and academic goals. They’re a great resource.”

Whether it’s seeking advice from a faculty member, seeing where the life sciences and engineering sciences overlap, or just listening to giggles bubble out of the hallway, the Honors Residential College is an integrated learning experience that challenges students in every aspect of their personal and professional development.