New Freshman CJ Dorm Opens in Fall Semester

Picture of students siting around a table, talking to each other.Students live and learn together.

By: Trey Cawley

This fall, the College of Criminal Justice will open a new dorm for criminal justice majors only, where freshman can live and study together as part of a Freshman Learning Community.

Freshman Learning Communities are designed to help students successfully transition into their first year at college, not only helping them stay in school but giving them a foundation for their remaining college years.

“Students in the living-learning communities will live on campus in a dorm all together,” said Criminal Justice Advisor Fabia Mendez. “We will be utilizing one of the small houses where it will be all criminal justice majors with a resident advisor who is also a criminal justice major.”

Freshman learning communities were created by the Office for First-Year Experience with the mission of bringing students together based on common academic or general interests. Students in the program enroll in the same core courses with the idea that they will support each other socially as well as academically.

Students on a stairwellStudents in the program will build strong relationships. The learning communities will help freshmen create bonds with peers, establish study groups, and increase early successes. In this way, they help students build a strong academic and social support network to help them succeed.

“The way the communities will work is that they will all take three of the same classes together in the fall and spring of their freshman year,” said Mendez.

For the upcoming fall and spring semesters, criminal justice freshman in the program can take:

  • Introduction to the Criminal Justice System
  • United States History to 1876
  • Introduction to Collegiate Studies
  • Criminology
  • United States History Since 1876
  • History of Rock, Jazz, and Popular Music

Picture of new Criminal Justice Dorm, The Margaret Lee Houston House The new CJ only dorm, Houston House. Sam Houston State University also offers other Freshman Learning Communities for students with broader interests that are not required to live together. The two models of learning communities exist as a way to meet the various living situations of students who are enrolled in the program.

“The students that I’ve spoken to about the Freshman Learning Communities appreciate a structure that provides academic support and social support through the living component,” said Candice Wilson, the Program Coordinator for First-Year Experience. “Of course, there are also students who have other living circumstances or preferences that are not what we offer in our living-learning communities and some students who see living and taking classes with the same students as too much contact with the same group. So far in the recruiting process, I’ve found that with our criminal justice students, the two options appeal to students who just have different ideas of how they want to be supported in their first year. Regardless of whether or not the communities live together, previous learning communities have demonstrated an ability to create bonds between students that stand for years.”

Students studying in front of the SHSU belltowerMany former students in the program still study together. Mendez, who has taught several learning community classes, can attest to the bonds that are created.

“I have had some students come back and say that it helped them as far as study groups and having people they can catch up with,” Mendez explained. “The first community that I taught had a student who is now a CJ Ambassador, who told me that she still keeps in touch with her community, and they still take classes and have study groups together.”

That former student is Erin-Audrey Allen, who has had great success in the criminal justice program, making straight A’s her freshman year as well as making the Dean’s List. She would later become a CJ Ambassador, a high honor bestowed on only a select number of students to represent the criminal justice program at various events. She attributes this success, in part, to her participation in the Freshmen Learning Community program.

“It was effective,” said Allen. “I feel as if I had the opportunity to continue the program throughout the rest of my college career, I would have.”

Picture students gathered around a table. Bonds created in the program lead to success. Her performance is not outside the norm, as many students who go through the program become prepared to succeed and graduate with their bachelor’s degree. The bonds created during the program between students may contribute to the high retention rate, or number of students who stay in college, among those who are enrolled in the learning communities program compared the general student population.

“Even if they did not make straight A’s, they are still all here,” said Allen. “I noticed that a lot of the students that I started off with in college are not here. The people in my group came from a smorgasbord of backgrounds. We had cowboys, cheerleaders, baseball players, everything, and they are all still students at Sam Houston State University.”

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