Introducing TU's new Faculty in Residence family
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Introducing TU’s new Faculty in Residence family

By Emily Contois

woman smiling while placing dishes on a dining table
Emily Contois preparing to welcome guests

“Hey, sweetheart. I think I’d like to be part of The University of Tulsa’s Faculty in Residence program and live on campus with students. You’d do that with me, right?”

Some husbands might panic if their wife asked such a question on a random evening in February. But not mine.

Chris and I actually met when we were students at the University of Oklahoma. He even proposed to me, years later, on the patch of sidewalk where we first spoke on campus. One of our biology professors was a faculty in residence, regularly challenging students to rounds of sand volleyball. We didn’t imagine then that we’d serve in that role ourselves, but we are honored and excited to do so now.

Building bridges

When faculty and their families live on campus, it can form a bridge between the classroom and student life. For me, this is a natural expansion of teaching at TU, where our small class sizes make it possible for me to know my students as whole people. I love our intellectual exchanges in the classroom, where my students challenge their perspectives, grow their critical thinking skills and polish their communication abilities. But I also enjoy running into my students when I’m walking my dog, Raven, working out at the gym or grabbing a bite at the Student Union.

I’m looking forward to the many ways I’ll get to connect with students while living on campus with them. I hope to be a positive part of their college experience and to quite literally be steps away when they need help.

Supporting TU students

close-up photos of a woman, dog and a bearded man
Emily, Raven and Chris

But to return to that night in February, when I asked my husband if he would be a Faculty in Residence family with me, things moved very quickly after that!

I researched similar programs and read the literature about how they can positively impact student satisfaction with the college experience, student retention rates and student learning, growth and achievement. I created a proposal for what a TU Faculty in Residence program could be. Chris and I were blown away by how quickly TU administrators and staff members enthusiastically said yes and set to work bringing the program to life.

We initially toured student apartments, and we were ready to move into Norman Village when things clicked into place for TU to restore the faculty apartment on the top floor of LaFortune House. Chris and I soon learned that Robin Ploeger, TU’s vice president for business continuity and sustainability, was TU’s last faculty in residence there in 2009. We’re excited to build on her successes and be the first faculty family to live in LaFortune in more than a decade.

Welcome to our home!

We’re eager to welcome students and colleagues into our new home. I spent part of the summer decorating it and hope students find it warm, welcoming, colorful, fun and a little quirky. (We joke that I’ve finally put my years of watching HGTV to good use!)

One of my main research areas is food media, so I love gathering with others over food. The kitchen was updated before we moved in, and a gorgeous 10-foot table that used to be in TU President Carson’s office will make it possible for us to host students for big family meals.

Raven and I are also planning “Pup and PJs” office hours in the Faculty Study that’s located next to our apartment, so students can come as they are and at a time that might work better for their often-late-night lifestyles. Raven is a natural nanny dog and is already booping all the students’ suite doors as we walk down the hall, so she’ll be readily available for pets and cuddles.

woman and dog seated on a gold-colored couch
Emily and Raven

LaFortune also has a great lobby, where Raven and I will spend time every week so students can stop by to ask questions, get help or just say hi on their way to class. The lobby also has a TV. Chris studied film in undergrad and is now a sports performance physical therapist and an avid athlete himself, so he’s looking forward to watching movies and sports with students. He’s happy to share his professional experiences in the health sciences, too. He’s worked in hospitals and clinics, and during our years in the San Francisco Bay Area and in New England, he worked with numerous elite college athletes from a range of sports as well professional athletes and a number of Olympians.

We’ll be hosting academic and social events in our home, but we’ll also collaborate with LaFortune’s resident assistants and Student Life staff on programming. We’re also hoping to serve as a connector and convener, gathering groups of students to attend and support the already great events on campus — from student athletics to Student Association events, to music performances and art exhibitions, and fascinating talks and symposia across campus — all to help support a vibrant and engaged campus culture.

This is just the beginning of our Faculty in Residence adventure. We’ll be listening to and learning from TU students, fellow faculty and staff about how we can make our presence impactful. We hope that students soon know, and feel, that we’re a resource for them on campus. To them we say, we genuinely care about you and we’re here to support your college journey. We can’t wait to see you soon and welcome you into our home!

You’re welcome to follow our Faculty in Residence journey on social media. I’ll be posting at @emilycontois on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #utulsafir.