For more than 500 students on the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville campus, living in a Focused Interest Community (FIC) means having access to valuable mentors and cultivating strong connections with like-minded students on a daily basis.
Almost a decade has passed since the first FIC was established at SIUE, and Assistant Director of Residence Life for Residential Education Vicky Dean said in many ways the communities have helped shape students' futures and direct their careers. "Research has shown that higher retention rates, higher grade point averages and lower risk of academic withdrawal all have been associated with participation in learning communities," she said, citing information from the Journal of College Student Development.
Currently there are FICs in nursing and health professionals programs, such as pre-dental, pre-pharmacy and pre-medical; education; engineering and technology; business; enterprise; psychology; Sustainability in Society (SIS), Future Leaders and Scholars for honors students. There also is an international student community; a Sophomore Year Experience community open to sophomores getting acclimated to campus and hoping to pursue leadership and career development opportunities; and Eco-House, which works with The Gardens at SIUE on sustainability initiatives. The groups of students reside in the same buildings and often take the same classes as program requirements. Living in the same neighborhood makes it more convenient for students to study together and share information.
"Overall, the FICs meet the students' needs in developing social connections, adjustment to college life and connection to college resources, whether that be in the area of course work or out-of-class work," Dean said.
There are 26 faculty and staff members at SIUE acting as mentors and leaders for the FICs. Lecturer Kristine Jarden from the SIUE School of Business works closely with the group of students comprising Cougar Enterprises; one of the newest FICs on campus. With eight members in its first year, the entrepreneurship group took part in a number of regional and state competitions, collaborated on projects and worked to build the businesses of their dreams.
"We met often and worked on our businesses," Jarden said. "There was a lot of brainstorming and networking involved."
Jarden said applications already have been coming in for the fall cohort of the Enterprises FIC, with students from a variety of majors, from business to engineering. "All majors are accepted," she said.
"There has been a lot more interest in entrepreneurship and I think the economy has a little to do with that."
The students used a special study lounge and resource center to work on homework and business ideas in privacy, allowing them to capitalize on their creativity, Jarden said. The class focused on building the basics of starting a business enterprise, from deciding if a business idea is feasible to writing a business plan.
FICs are located in Cougar Village-the University's campus apartment housing-as well as in the campus residence halls. Those interested in living in a FIC are encouraged to submit applications to University Housing by May 1 for fall placement. For more information, or for an application, visit siue.edu/housing/fic/index.shtml.