Philosophy professor Mark Ralkowski knows it takes more than two classes a week to understand Plato.
When he becomes the first faculty member from the University Honors Program to move onto the Mount Vernon Campus in the fall, Ralkowski, who studies the Classical Greek philospher, hopes to engage his students in intellectual conversations outside of their coursework.
“The faculty-in-residence program is an educational idea. It’s a chance to live the life of the mind,” Ralkowski, who will likely live in Somers Hall, said.
After feeling an “immediate and genuine connection” with GW when he arrived last fall from the University of New Mexico, the professor has since sought to become more involved in the community of students and faculty.
He will plan trips to museums, theater performances and an occasional D.C. United game as a way for students to get more out of their classroom experience “without the pressure of writing papers or studying for a test.” He said he thinks the experience will make him a better teacher.
“You can cultivate really close, lasting mentorship relationships in that kind of environment,” he said.
Ralkowski, 35, also hopes to create opportunities for his students to get involved with his research – part of a broad effort by the honors program to boost undergraduate research. The Vern will add a faculty learning center this fall, in which affiliated professors will leave their regular teaching duties to each lead one honors course and focus on a specific area of research.
Honors program director Maria Frawley said Ralkowski “was quick to pick up on its appeal and potential” after arriving at GW.
“He is dedicated and energetic and will be a wonderful resource for both the honors students who choose to live at Mount Vernon and for other students in the Mount Vernon community,” Frawley said.
The University has looked to build up support for honors students as some of the program’s offices, most freshman classes and its housing option for first-year students will transition to the Vern next fall. Ralkowski’s move coincides with the addition of two new house staff members who are honors students, which Center for Student Engagement Director Tim Miller said will help foster a sense of community among honors students.
Shelly Heller, associate provost for academic affairs at the Mount Vernon Campus, said she believes the honors program’s first year on the Vern will be successful, adding that relationships with faculty will give students “a new point of view on their academics.”
Six professors participate in the faculty-in-residence program across both campuses and all are interested in returning next fall, Senior Assistant Dean of Students and Academic Support Services Rebecca Sawyer said. Up to two new professors could be added, besides the honors faculty spot, but positions will not be finalized until all housing assignments are doled out by late May.
The University began collecting feedback from students on the growing program this week through online surveys, which will be reviewed when deciding how many faculty to add for the fall. The number of additional participants will largely depend on space in residence halls – apartment-style rooms are scarce across both campuses – and faculty applications to the program.
Since the launch of the faculty in residence program in 1998 with just two professors, Sawyer said its growth has been unexpected. She added that Provost Steven Lerman, who participated in a similar faculty in residence program when he taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been a strong supporter of the program.
Lauren Campbell, a sophomore in the honors program, said she built a friendship with history and honors professor Theo Christov by seeing him around Lafayette Hall. She said Christov spends time with Lafayette residents by inviting them for tea and taking them to theater performances at Lisner Auditorium.
“This is something that my friends at other schools don’t have,” she said. “You establish this web of connections while you’re here, and the faculty in residence can really be an anchoring point for making these connections.”