CALS Profs Bolster West Campus Community

By Alex Koeberle ’13

House Deans
Alice Cook House professor-dean André Dhondt, William Keeton House professor-dean Jeff Hancock, and Flora Rose House professor-dean Garric Blalock. Photo: Robyn Wishna

Located just below Libe Slope and home to more than 1,000 transfer and upper class undergraduate students, the five residence halls of the West Campus House System offer a living-learning community for students—and the resident faculty who participate as house professor-deans.

“Ezra Cornell did not want students just to live in dorms, he wanted them to live in a community,” said Garrick Blalock, Flora Rose House professor-dean and an associate professor in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. “I think West Campus is exactly the type of model Ezra would have envisioned for today.”

Blalock is one of three CALS faculty members serving as house professor-deans, living in the residence halls with their families. The unique arrangement fosters informal interaction between students and faculty members in a community that emphasizes social and cultural programming, including weekly house dinners, musical performances and opportunities for intellectual exploration.

“We want to bring the intellectual richness of the Ag Quad and all the opportunities on central campus to the houses,” Blalock said. “The Ag Quad can seem pretty far from West Campus, so we have a speaker series with many CALS faculty and bring the community here.”

“We also plan events for students to relax and explore the campus and Ithaca,” said André Dhondt, Alice Cook House professor-dean and the Edwin H. Morgens Professor of Ornithology in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Past events have included visits to Fuertes Observatory, a weekly knitting club, pumpkin picking and even a yearly trip to Niagara Falls. Residents have also volunteered with Into the Streets and the Ithaca Children’s Garden and participated in other special events.

“I noticed a huge, blank cement wall in the Flora Rose House dining room and thought what a great chance to create something new,” Blalock said. “We even had a seminar showing students how they can make beautiful artwork with limited artistic experience and basic materials.”

Now in its tenth year, West Campus was intended to be a natural extension of the experience students share as first-year students on north campus, but West Campus living helps faculty, too.  Each of the house professor-deans cited the ample luncheons, house dinners and social gatherings in their apartments as great ways to learn from the students. 

“It’s a community within a larger community,” said Jeff Hancock, William Keeton House professor-dean, and professor in the departments of Communication and Information Science. “The faculty and student interaction results in a community with a unique flavor.”