Monday, October 15, 2012

By Corrie Vincent, student intern

When students move into a dorm they expect to see many things: bunk beds, TVs and refrigerators. What they don’t expect to find is a professor living among them. Through a pilot program in Prichard Hall, this is exactly what residents have found, and as a result the whole campus is benefitting.

History professor, Dr. Ken Millen-Penn, was the first professor to participate in the program focused on breaking down student-professor barriers. “It helps getting to know your students in a way that you can’t in a classroom,” he said. “The program began when Dr. Robert Baker, head of the Honors Program, Daniel Gockley, head of the Housing Department, and I were chatting about the need to involve professors in a more direct way in our students’ campus experience,” explained Millen-Penn.

As a 25 year teaching veteran, Millen-Penn believes that you should give 100% when teaching and that the work of professors is vitally important. Growing up during historical events such as the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the Nixon Watergate scandal, led Millen-Penn to teach history. Though he sees himself as a political and foreign affairs historian, he enjoys teaching students about all types of history. For Millen-Penn, professors should have enthusiasm and care about what they are teaching.

All professors have different teaching methods, and Millen-Penn is no different. He chooses to run his classes in an “old school” lecture, keeping it more like a story or conversation. He doesn’t see the need to use high-tech classroom equipment while teaching and likes to have his students work in group exercises so they can bounce ideas and thoughts off of each other.

Millen-Penn’s excitement and drive to better a student’s education made him a perfect candidate to serve as the first faculty member to live in the dorms.

For him, dorm living has a lighter approach than most other spaces in Prichard Hall. With a wall of windows that let in the mid-day light, the room has a bedroom, a living room and a coveted personal bathroom. The front room serves as a cozy study with comfy couches and shelves cluttered with biographies and history books. Millen-Penn’s style and personality are visible everywhere and it is clear that he has fully made his home in Prichard Hall.

When the program started he admitted there were some things he had to get used to. “It was an adjustment at first, living with 18 and 19 year olds and people being up at two in the morning.” Student residents also had some adjusting to do but say the experience has been great.

"It is a great experience living in the dorms with a faculty member such as Dr. Millen-Penn because it is a wonderful opportunity to engage in meaningful and powerful discussions about various topics,” said Prichard resident, Gustavo Fernandes. “It is an extension of a classroom where a student can talk directly to a professor to discover and answer questions about projects for classes or debate on current events."

Above all else, two things stand out the most when visiting Millen-Penn. First, his mission is clear. He lives for the students and they are welcome to stop by at any time for advice, to get help with course material or just to chat. He has a chair right near the front door for visitors to have a seat and get comfortable and he never turns anyone away.  Second, Millen-Penn has a soft side; a brown and black striped collage of furry softness – his cat Raja. Through an open window, Raja comes and goes as he pleases. His backyard is a campus full of thousands of students always ready to give him a scratch on the head or a belly rub. Raja adjusted to campus life pretty easily but still has a hard time with one rule…Don’t chase the Falcon!

Now in his third year, Millen-Penn is optimistic about the future. This is the first year that he is living with all honors and international students and thinks that these students have given the dorm a first rate culture and greater sense of academic purpose. He also has noticed the cross cultural communication between the international and honors students within the dorm. He observed that people enjoy meeting others from a foreign country and believes the interaction will improve the overall culture of the dorm. With the combined forces of Millen-Penn, Baker, Gockley, and all of the excellent Residence Life staff, whose teamwork and cooperation hold the dorm life together, the program should continue to prosper and create even more opportunities for firsts.