UMd. Dorm Caters to Serious, High-Minded Students
Mizejewski, Gerald, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Dormitory life at a large American university is often associated with pizza, loud music, beer and boisterous behavior. The University of Maryland is quietly trying to change that.
Somerset Hall, a recently renovated dorm at the College Park campus, is designed to appeal to a different type of student: conscientious, considerate and civic-minded.
All the residents at Somerset are part of the Civicus Living and Learning Program, a new approach to dorm life started this semester that joins like-minded students in the same residence hall and weaves academics with social interaction.
Students living in Somerset signed agreements before move-in day stating that they will take on volunteer projects and dorm duties over the next two years. Together they will set up a "civil society" in the building that sets quiet hours, polices the kitchenette areas and governs the hall.
"This is like a return of the ancient Greek civilization," said Jasmine Thomas, a resident assistant who keeps an eye on a wing of girls.
Before the first week of classes came to a close, students mulched and watered an urban garden near Baltimore and made 1,200 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for nonprofit Martha's Table in the District.
As a perk, students enjoy air conditioning, larger rooms, even a "faux granite base in the bathrooms," as one student noted. Their dorm has a private computer room with 10 terminals and faculty members hold office hours there.
"It's a step above the average college experience. . . . It's not dorky," said senior participant Jessica Leshnoff, 20.
"I feel that the mentality of those people that live in the specialty housing is quite [a bit] higher because they're not going to just party."
Somerset Hall, formerly a run-down dorm primarily reserved for upperclassmen, is now home to one of the university's five living-learning programs. …