UH Hilo living-learning communities give freshmen the support they need to succeed

The small on-campus communities are designed to support the academic success of students, help them make friends, and ultimately to help them graduate and become successful members of the global community.

Abcde Zoller
Abcde Zoller

Abcde Zoller, a sophomore and athlete at University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, credits her freshman experience as a resident of Hale Kanilehua Living Learning Center with empowering her to take charge of her future.

“I recall coming home to my room every afternoon and thinking to myself, ‘I love how our dorm is one big ‘ohana,'” she says. “That comfort of knowing you’re never alone and have a family away from home felt good.”

Zoller now lives off campus while playing on the women’s soccer team, maintaining three jobs, and taking a seventeen-credit load schedule.

For most new freshman students, a new life at the university marks the transition from adolescence into adulthood. Moving away from home, doing laundry on their own, taking college level courses, and for some, playing Division II athletics, can be a big transition for many new freshman and transfer students. Continuing students also experience major transition as they move into upper division courses and approach graduation.

The concept of a Freshmen Village at UH Hilo started with a pilot project in fall 2013 at the Hale Kanilehua residential hall and funded through the Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions Program. The small community is called the Hale Kanilehua Living Learning Center, and because of the criteria of the funding, is focused on supporting Native Hawaiian students from both UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College who are interested in Hawaiian studies and science, technology, engineering and math programs, commonly called the STEM programs. The pilot program was a great success — it not only expanded students’ competency in technology and developed courses with a Hawaiian perspective, but also hosted professional development programs to increase faculty and staff knowledge of Hawaiian perspectives, and increased access to Hawaiian language materials.

This semester, UH Hilo has expanded the Freshman Village concept to include other students. Two cohorts of freshmen living in the Hale Kehau residence hall are divided into two different communities: Health and Recreation, and Natural Science. There are currently about 35 students in the two cohorts occupying two floor levels of Hale Kehau. These living-learning communities provide students with shared interests the opportunity to live together — creating the campus ‘ohana or family that meant so much to Zoller — and have experiences outside the classroom in shared areas of interest.

All students in the cohorts share two common classes. This fall, each cohort takes University 101, a course intended to increase first-time college students’ academic success and foster their social integration into the college environment. In the spring, the cohorts will take English 100, providing students with an introduction to effective university writing skills.

Ultimately, the small on-campus communities are designed to support the academic success of students, help students make friends, and help them graduate to become successful members of the global community.

“Students who are connected to their campus are more likely to be retained as well as persist to graduation,” says Jake Picus,  associate director of UH Hilo New Student Programs. “The Freshmen Village is designed to do just that. It gives students a unique living experience that connects them to other first year students, supports them academically, and sets them up in a community of peers with shared interests.”

Studies show students who learn within a community of peers are more likely to stay in college, earn a higher GPA, and experience a greater degree of satisfaction with their overall college experience. With UH Hilo’s living-learning communities, students can find the perfect place to live and find the support they need while pursuing their studies.

Amber Manini contributed to this story