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The Daily Tar Heel

Forging Surrogate UNC Families

Housed in Teague, Cobb, Carmichael and Ehringhaus residence halls, theme houses unite a diverse group of students with common interests such as speaking Spanish, living well, focusing on women's perspectives and learning about the health sciences.

Students work, live and play together to form a special UNC experience.

Currently, 495 students participate in the programs, and officials say there is an interest in increasing the number of topics addressed.

Kim is a participant in First Year Initiative, the largest of nine Residential Learning Programs offered in UNC's residence halls. She and 19 other freshmen who live on the same floor in Ehringhaus discuss culture and society once a week, allowing her to find a special campus community.

Kim, a business major from Alexander City, Ala., learned about her current housing community from her housing application. "I thought that it would make the campus seem smaller," she said.

Through her small group seminar, Kim has made a network of friends, including an undergraduate mentor and a faculty advisor.

David Jones, assistant director of housing and residential education, said the programs contribute to academic achievement because of the faculty interaction involved.

Kristin Wilson, a senior economics and Latin American studies major, agreed theme housing has enhanced her college experience.

Wilson lived in Hinton James and Joyner residence halls during her first two years of college. She applied to live in the Spanish House because it provided her with a goal-oriented environment. "Everyone chose to be here, and (we) have some common interests," she said.

Each theme house requires residents to attend weekly activities like discussion groups and lectures.

Spanish House participants attend Sunday meetings and five other educational activities per month.

But the educational aspect is not all seminars and lectures. By playing games, eating dinner or watching movies together, participants form close bonds with one another while highlighting their theme.

Jones said some students also are attracted by better living conditions.

Art Vindrine, a senior from Hendersonville, saw the Academic Enhancement Program as a way to move from his South Campus high rise to a more convenient location in Teague.

Vindrine said he was also interested because of its enriching activities, such as plays, operas and discussions. "(The Academic Enhancement Program) is highly organized and offers many opportunities for residents to get involved in the community," he said.

The theme housing program began when Carmichael opened in 1986. Students and faculty first proposed an international living unit and Romance and Germanic language houses, programs still around today.

Since its start, housing department officials have been trying to improve UNC's theme housing programs. "Last year there were proposals for a sustainable living house, a vegetarian house and a Hindi house," Jones said.

With continued interest in theme housing students like Kim will interact with faculty and friends who can enrich their college experience.

According to Kim, "It is like a small family away from home."

The Features Editor can be reached at features@unc.edu.

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