You live, you learn

Seven GW freshmen fled Foggy Bottom last weekend and headed for higher political ground. The students, who are neighbors on Lafayette Hall’s third floor, boarded a Greyhound bus bound for New Hampshire and spent the weekend campaigning for Bill Bradley, traipsing through the New England slush.

The experience was one of many moments in the political education of Romy Lipkis that has taught him more than any class might. He is a member of the Politics & Values Living and Learning Community, a freshman residential experience that infuses intensive academic study with real-world application.

Going there was an adventure, said Lipkis, a business major. Just watching these people working with such sheer devotion was incredible to see.

P&V, as it is called, is one of the oldest Living and Learning Programs at GW. Students in the program now and in years past give it high marks all-around for helping them experience Washington in a way few of their first-year classmates will. This year, 18 students were selected to participate from more than 70 applicants.

Last week, the Community Living and Learning Center, which coordinates housing and related activities at GW, announced plans to substantially increase its LLP offerings for freshmen and returning students. CLLC will not add to the standing lineup of freshmen LLPs (P&V, Roots of Western Civilization, International Affairs and the Women and Power program at Mount Vernon campus), which are tied directly to academic course requirements.

Instead, the slew of new programs more closely resemble the Hall on Virginia Avenue’s Watergate 723 and Healthy Lifestyles communities, which rely heavily on student input to determine the LLP’s sole curriculum of outside speakers and activities.

The great thing about all of these programs is that learning doesn’t have to end when class is over, said Mark Levine, assistant dean of students. A packet informing students of the new offerings was delivered to students last week, brimming with details about the new programs. But some students said the residential experiences are not exactly what the University makes them out to be.

Five floors up from P&V in Lafayette, freshmen in Roots give their experience mixed reviews. Though many said they enjoyed the program’s rigorous academic courses, which combines humanities and English seminars, they also expressed frustration over a lack of field trips and other relevant out-of-class activities, which were advertised as part of the program.

In all fairness, maybe there just isn’t much going on around here that has do to do with the effects of ancient Greek culture, said participant Jill Cuyler. But it would have been nice, and it’s sort of false advertising.

Cuyler and her roommate Deepa Avula said they were both told by the University in mid-summer that they could join Roots without filling out the requisite application because there were not nearly enough students to fill the one-floor program.

In the brochure, they said students needed to have a 710 on their writing SAT IIs to apply to the program, she said. I don’t think half the people in the program even took the SATIIs. I know I didn’t.

Several students in the Roots program said they originally enrolled only to evade living in Thurston, GW’s largest freshman residence hall. Lafayette, which houses P&V, Roots and University Honors Program students, is a fraction of the size.

The situation was similar for some upperclassmen who said the chance to side-step the University’s drawn-out housing lottery was what drew them to the CLLC’s new leadership program for returning students this year. The Leaders Excelling at Dakota (LEAD) program, which is advised by the program coordinator for Thurston Hall, was intended to focus on sharpening the leadership skills of the participants, but few LEAD initiatives ever got off the ground.

We didn’t do that much, said sophomore Nicole Aguirre. But a lot of people here didn’t really care once they were living here. She said that because most LEAD members already participate in student activities, extra requirements might have been unnecessary.

Living so near each other was good, though, because we could find out what each other were doing and share ideas.

At HOVA, students said they were pleased with the Watergate 723 community, which has focused on the effects of the Watergate scandal in government and the media. Though they only meet for about two hours every two weeks, the group has heard from G. Gordon Liddy, Bob Woodward and Ken Starr. The advisor for the program is on sabbatical from the U.S. Department of Justice.

At the Healthy Lifestyles community one floor up, students also said they were generally satisfied with the LLP, which promotes health and fitness. Students in the program signed a contract promising to refrain from drugs, alcohol and nicotine and developed their own programming with their community facilitator.

It’s a worthwhile program, but we definitely aren’t getting everything the University pitched, resident Kyaiera Mistretta said. She said promotional literature on the LLP led her to believe GW would cover some costs for the group’s off-campus outings, such as white-water rafting. Another resident, Nadia Vizueta, said she was under the impression that Lifetyles students would be granted more access to GW fitness facilities than other students.

I was surprised that we have no more than anyone else, she said.

Some of the LLP problems are being worked out for next year, according to students from LEAD and Lifestyles, and students’ recommendations are being included in the process. But many of this year’s cornucopia of initiatives may face the same first-year growing pains.

Ben Getto, a business school student and Student Association vice president for Financial Affairs, said he was hopeful the new entrepreneurial LLP, which he had a hand in creating, would make a smooth transition from concept to practice.

A few years down the road, the business school might become involved to the point where classes are incorporated into the program, he said. But for now, the students will be free to direct their own activities. The possibilities are endless.

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