New NextGen living community planned for African-American males

A new living and learning community for African American males in the NextGen residence halls will open in the fall of 2016. The learning community, called ScHOLA2RS, aims to increase graduation rates and leadership within UConn's African American male community. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

A new living and learning community for freshman and sophomore African American males will open this fall in Next Gen Residence Hall.

University officials hope ScHOLA2RS House, which is expected to have 43 residents, will help increase UConn’s African American male graduation rate.

David Ouimette, executive director of first year programs and learning communities, said he believes the program can introduce its residents to “great leaders” at the university and encourage them to follow in their footsteps.

“We have some great faculty at the med school and the law school … and across the university,” Ouimette said.

The community, which stands for Scholastic House of Leaders who are African American Researchers and Scholars, will be the 18th living and learning community on campus.

Although UConn has the African American Cultural Center, Academic Achievement Center and UConn Connects, ScHOLA2RS House will be the first living community specifically geared toward African American male students and their academic success.

“If you look at other institutions across the country African American males tend to graduate at a lower rate,” said Erik Hines, a professor in the Neag School’s counseling program. “We want to do a lot of intrusive counseling. … We will look at their academic preparation, their social emotional development, their growth and their career development.”

In 2012, the graduation rate for all UConn students was 82.5 percent, but for the less than 600 total undergraduate African American males, the graduation rate was 54 percent. The idea behind ScHOLA2RS house is to not only change that, but also encourage its students to pursue careers in which African American males are underrepresented.

ScHOLA2RS House will be a comprehensive program including a service learning component, faculty and peer mentoring, a highly encouraged study abroad program ideally in the summer after the students freshmen year and a one-credit first year experience class taught by Hines.

“You got to get involved in your freshmen year, you’ve got to make friends, you’ve got to get a little bit out of your comfort zone – that’s really what this is going to be all about,” Ouimette said.

The small environment of ScHOLA2RS House will allow students to have personalized plans with their advisers that could include getting involved in research earlier, connecting to faculty or just making sure that these students do not get lost in the shuffle of a large university like UConn.

“We have heard some talk about them (the students of ScHOLA2RS House) being segregated,” Hines said, “but think about being one of 577, how many African Americans will you actually see in your class?”

ScHOLA2RS House is not intended to segregate its students, instead it is supposed to allow for a place where they can meet other African American males and talk about shared experiences, Hines said.

“From professors to even their peers these students experience lower expectations, they encounter micro aggressions at a higher rate than some of their other colleagues and some of them even feel isolated,” Hines said. “For freshmen we want to make sure we get them engaged. Get them in to undergraduate research, service learning, places where they will meet other students who are very different from them but then an enriching perspective.”

The development of ScHOLA2RS House began many years ago when Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Sally Reis brought together Hines, Ouimette, Africana Studies Institute Director W. Jelani Cobb, history professor Jeff Ogbar, philosophy professor Lewis Gordon and many other UConn staff with the idea of using the learning community model to help African American male students take advantage of UConn’s resources, Ouimette said.

With the help of the UConn Foundation and the Booth Ferris Foundation grant of $300,000 in June 2015, the ideas for ScHOLA2RS House will now be able to become a reality, Ouimette said.

The grant also allows for research to be done on the outcomes of students who go through the ScHOLA2RS House programs to be done over the next several years.

“We are going to track the students to see how they are doing academically, how their social experiences are, basically student engagement,” Hines said.

The research will also look at if, as a result of this learning community, students going into graduate programs and compare them to the broader African American male community.

“We’ve had learning communities here since 2008 and longer and they’ve been a successful model for retention and graduation and getting students to be a little more connected to faculty earlier in their college career and providing enrichment and academic support,” Ouimette said. “The ultimate idea is to develop a pipeline for these young men to become faculty themselves.”

ScHOLA2RS House will share a floor in Next Gen Residence Hall with Innovation House. The students will have access to the building’s community room, idea lab, event space and “maker space” that will allow for student building projects.

“We want to develop them optimally for them to be prepared for life after college,” Hines said.

Ouimette and Hines will be hosting several informational sessions about ScHOLA2RS House, including one at open house for incoming students. Any students interested in the program are encouraged to contact Ouimette or Hines at david.ouimette@uconn.edu or erik.hines@uconn.edu.


Julia Werth is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at julia.werth@uconn.edu.