In 2004, Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science partnered with Campus Living & Learning to create the first residential community — the Engineering and Computer Science Living-Learning Center (ECS-LLC). Students who live in the ECS-LLC, now Teal Residential College, have access to a faculty-in-residence, leadership training opportunities, tutoring and other specialized programming that have proven to be highly beneficial to students’ academic success. However, for a variety of reasons, not all engineering and computer science majors are able to live in this residential community with its numerous resources and services.
According to research published by Dr. Carolyn Skurla, associate professor and graduate program director in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Emily Sandvall, associate director of undergraduate programs for the School of Engineering & Computer Science, approximately 58 percent of engineering students who enrolled at Baylor from 2004 to 2008 never lived in the ECS-LLC and, thus, did not have access to its resources.
The results of this study, as well as additional observations and discussions, led Dr. Skurla and Sandvall, along with Dr. Bill Booth, senior lecturer in computer science, and Dr. Mike Thompson, professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate dean for undergraduate programs, to explore the idea of a learning resource center (LRC). The LRC would aim to increase retention and graduation rates among engineering and computer science students, specifically those not living in Teal, by offering both academic support and social programming.
“We know Teal is not accessible to everyone —whether because of the cost or because they don’t want to live there,” Sandvall said. “It’s not for everyone and it can’t house everyone. So we really wanted to come up with something that would serve the majority of our school.”
After extensive planning and preparation, in the fall of 2015, the LRC was launched in the Engineering Research Annex on the west side of campus with a small investment of pilot money from the ECS departments and the dean’s office.
The Annex, which previously housed Baylor’s ROTC program, has been repurposed as a central hub of the LRC. The Annex now includes a collaborative space with large white boards and clusters of seats where students can study as well as a computer lab where students can access the ECS network. Open Sunday through Thursday from 6pm to 10pm, the LRC offers students an extended-hours study space that is less crowded than similar spaces on campus and claims the added bonus of being restricted to ECS students. Two Baylor higher education and student affairs (HESA) graduate students completing practicums with the program are also housed in the Annex.
During its pilot phase this past fall, the LRC offered a number of specialized programs to undergraduate engineering and computer science students in addition to providing study and computer space. A grant from Halliburton funded a peer mentor program in which five upper-level ECS students each partnered with a group of six younger students. The mentors met individually with each of their mentees once every other week to form community, offer guidance and develop social and academic programming.
“We asked those students [the mentees] what they wanted to get out of the program, and a lot of them talked about just having someone to walk alongside them through the ECS experience, especially during their first year,” said Allison Everett, one of the two HESA students working with the LRC.
The LRC also housed tutoring sessions for students, which became one of the center’s most popular resources. Since the pilot program was operating on a limited budget, ECS student organizations, like the Association for Computing Machinery, provided tutoring as a service to the school. A partnership with Baylor’s Success Center is also being explored in which Success Center tutors would provide tutoring services to ECS students from the LRC.
Dr. Booth and other faculty members are utilizing the LRC to offer their students various academic resources as well. Dr. Booth provides his students with test banks to study and review and also encourages them to use the LRC space for group projects. a
“Fundamentally, we have a deep commitment to our quality of education and a deep desire that our students all be successful,” Dr. Booth said. “We’re going to do everything that is reasonably within our power to help them achieve their goals.”
In addition to offering academic services, the LRC also aims to build community through social programming, since many students living outside of Teal lack the connection to other students in their major that those living in the residential college possess. During midterms, a free pizza and study party was held at the LRC. The HESA students are now exploring additional social events like a bowling night, a spiritual formation evening and a time for faculty to discuss their current research with students.
After a successful pilot phase in the fall, the future of the LRC looks bright. The team of Dr. Skurla, Emily Sandvall, Dr. Booth and Dr. Thompson has applied for a National Science Foundation grant that would provide the center with funding for additional services and resources like tutoring or a graduate assistant.
“In the long run, we want the Learning Resource Center to build community among ECS students not living in Teal and to provide programming that will enable these students’ successful pursuit of an engineering or computer science degree at Baylor,” said Dr. Skurla.