Rethinking SOU: how the House model impacts your education

Editor’s Note: “Rethinking SOU” is a multi-part series that will focus on two “change processes” happening this year at Southern Oregon University spearheaded by President Mary Cullinan. One is called “Houses,” and it will change how students satisfy their general education requirements. For more information on the proposed Houses, go to www.sou.edu/vision.

This year Southern Oregon University will start its long journey to becoming a more sustainable and distinctive campus by implementing an original “House” model to eventually replace the university’s traditional style of offering general education requirements.

To start the process, two pilot Houses with specific themes – “Social Justice” and “GreenHouse” — will open in the fall. If they are successful, a variety of different Houses will be added in the years following.

Of course, the process is still in the blueprint stages, so many current students are confused about what the House program will mean to them.

“I’m honestly worried that my credits won’t be valid in the Houses,” said one student, when asked. “I can’t imagine having to re-do everything I’ve already done here so far.”

Fortunately, that student won’t have to. The House program will only be open to freshmen who start their studies in the fall of 2013. Current students are exempt and can carry out the rest of their schooling as planned. However, they may have opportunities in the future to become mentors to students in the House programs, according to Student Body President Joshua Danielson. The Houses could involve upperclassmen as well as members of the community who may have common interests.

“The House model is more similar to being on an athletic team, or being in theater and working on a production, where you’re not going to drop out until you’re done,” SOU President Mary Cullinan says. “The Houses will become your connection to the university.”

The Houses will not replace the current major and minor system, but give students an opportunity to apply specific skills and abilities with other students within their House in order to achieve a common goal.

“This work is intended to retain students,” Cullinan says. “This is a way to ensure we have students stay with us so that our revenue is consistent and we don’t have to raise tuition like we have in the past.”

In the Houses, class size and structure will change dramatically. As the House size will remain fairly small, class sizes will reduce as well. General education requirements will be altered to revolve around the House theme or problem to be solved rather than covering such broad topics.

In addition to the change in curriculum, the style in which students are advised will change as well. As the House model is designed to bring students together and keep them on campus, they will be guided through their education by faculty, staff and their peers.

If you would like to know more or get involved with the Houses program, SOU has created a website that is a great place to start: www.sou.edu/vision. You can also contact members of the two advisory boards who are working the details for the two pilot houses.

Faculty member Jody Waters, who submitted a House proposal and has been involved in the preliminary planning, encourages student input. “Students can be among the best resources for telling us how to shape and design these Houses,” she says.

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