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Academic Fusion: combination of academic and residential life

Courtesy of Division of Student Life

The names of residents and their divisions are posted outside their rooms on the second floor of Warren Olney Hall: "Ailea Lafave: Biology," "Anne Wittig: Philosophy." They are part of Academic Fusion, a new Living/Learning Community, which Lael Sigal of the Division of Student Life defined as "fusing academic life with residential life."

"The goal," said Sigal, "is to improve freshwoman retention and have more people satisfied with their experience at Mills."

Academic Fusion is currently freshwoman-only and divided into five subjects: biology, art history, literature, philosophy and psychology. The residents are required to take the introductory-level course in their subject – such as Introduction to Biology – and are clustered in the residential hall by subject. They have study sessions, attend field trips and are required to attend Academic Fusion events ranging from discussions on controversial subjects to philosophical movie viewings.

"It helps having everyone together," said freshwoman Samantha Johnsen. She said that she's "forced" to study more than anything else because all of her close friends are in the same class. "So we'll have movie nights in my room or study the Bio CD together," she said.

Freshwoman Lauren Gochez-Wilson said that Academic Fusion works better if the subject chosen is one in which the resident is not very strong. She chose art history because she has a strong background in the subject, and as a result she doesn't interact with the rest of her community as much as the others. She said, "I like that the community is close, but I don't take as much advantage of it as I could." She added that she would like it if Academic Fusion broadened to include more subjects, such as gender studies or mathematics.

"I chose Academic Fusion because I thought it would be a good way to meet people with similar interests," said freshwoman Reyna Hartman. She said it has definitely lived up to her expectations. "I was afraid it would be exclusive," she said. She said that she was afraid she would only be "hanging out" with literature students. However, she says, it has not been like that at all. She regrets that space in the community is limited, because "it's a shame that not everyone who wants to do it can do it."

Samantha Foster, a freshwoman, said, "I like that I live in a community and that I wasn't just thrown into things straight off . . . if I ever have a psychology question, I just go next door." She said that Mills did a "nice job introducing freshwomen to each other," and that already being in a community helped during orientation activities because the residents would just stay together. Consequently, she said she dislikes that if a resident drops the required class, then she must move out of the community.

"It feels different to me in an LLC hall," said Sigal. "Students have more of an opportunity to interact."

The next Academic Fusion event is on Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Art Museum, and it is titled "Awakening the Mind: Theory to Practice." Anyone is welcome to attend.

"We're not going to turn away anyone who wants to learn," Sigal said.