Last year, as a freshman, Patrick Potter wanted to feel like an Illini.
The enchantment of starting college appealed to him. Potter looked forward to learning the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. He wanted to spend warm days on the Quad, catch a game from the student section at Memorial Stadium, and find a few student organizations to join.
Instead, he felt disillusioned during his first year. There were days he sat in his dorm room wondering if he was making the most of his time at the University of Illinois.
Despite a slow start socially, Potter often took comfort knowing that he was living out a few of the reasons why he decided on this university. Among the most important to him was the Accounting program at Gies College of Business, and its #2 national ranking. This helped separate the College from others he considered, like Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame.
Also, he loved that the campus was close enough to his home in the southern suburbs of Chicago to visit his family consistently.
Despite feeling like he was finding a home within Gies Business, Potter found it difficult to explore all that the campus offered.
One year later, that feeling has completely changed. His reversal started the moment he unpacked his bags in his dorm room at Wassaja Hall’s brand new Business Living Learning Community (LLC).
“When I first read about the Business LLC starting in 2018, I thought it sounded perfect for me,” Potter said. “I liked the idea of being surrounded by a lot of other business students. I knew they would be going through similar experiences, and I felt like I would immediately be able to make connections with a new group of people.”
Two months into his fall semester, he couldn’t be happier about this living arrangement alongside 134 other students who have illuminated his entire collegiate experience.
One community made up of 135 students
When Gies Business Dean Jeffrey R. Brown first shared the idea of a Business LLC with Cele Otnes and Jim Dahl—then the LLC’s academic director and the College’s associate dean for undergraduate affairs, respectively—he did so believing in a few specific reasons for success.
One major differentiator was the groundbreaking nature of this project. The Business LLC is the first of 11 on campus to feature a partnership between a college and University Housing.
“The primary point, from the beginning, was to create a residential community where students engage in meaningful social and educational experiences,” Otnes said. “Additionally, we wanted students to interact with insightful visitors and engage with local businesses. We believed this would help students improve at problem solving and better understand challenges in their field of study.”
Shortly after the idea originated, Otnes and Dahl moved on to other roles in the College and passed their positions to Michael Fricke and Kevin Jackson. Each of these individuals from the College is a current professor holding a faculty appointment. Their expertise combines well with University Housing’s program director for the LLC, Ashley Davis, who they partner with.
Together, they finished forming the Business LLC’s focus by turning the individual’s experience into something more—a community.
“We want our students to look back on and think fondly of their experience while at Gies,” Fricke said. “In addition to the education we confidently deliver, we want to provide ways for our students to find their fit socially and emotionally.”
Once that comfort level kicks in, the idea is for students to feel an even greater bond with the College.
“I can’t explain how nice the Business LLC has been,” Potter said. “From the very beginning I got to know a bunch of people who I continue to see all the time at class, BIF, around campus, or in student clubs. I’m also on the Recognition Committee within the Wassaja Hall Council, and I’m looking into studying abroad.
“Through this experience I’ve realized what I enjoy so much about school here. I have a great place to live, I’ve made a bunch of great friends, and I have a demanding class schedule that interests me.”
Finding a fit at Gies from the beginning
Because many of its residents are freshmen or sophomores, the Business LLC draws students closer to the College at a time they primarily focus on courses outside their major.
“It is crucial that freshmen find relationships that reinforce their place on campus. The LLC helps with that, while also emphasizing sound habits for academic success,” Jackson said. “The Office of Undergraduate Affairs at Gies works under a simple mantra. Making student experiences a little better is what we do.”
With that in mind, staff set the right tone from the time students arrived at Wassaja Hall for a planned orientation. All LLC residents reach campus two days before any other students for the fall semester, and Business LLC students participated in an orientation that started everything off with a positive vibe.
After a send-off for parents, the first day included an information session and cosmic bowling at the Illini Union. The second day included a campus tour and treasure hunt, before a lock-in at BIF. Students watched a business-related documentary at the lock-in and even learned quilt making.
“The thing I remember most was the campus treasure hunt,” said Michelle Jiang, a Gies freshman. “I didn’t know which buildings were which then. So we not only learned the building but also had a fun competition. At each location, we tried to get others to pose like the Alma Mater statue for a photo with us.
“We even had a group of 40 or 50 others do the pose in front of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. It was a really memorable moment to start things off.”
A blueprint that centers on student experience
The planning that went into the Business LLC proved to be a blueprint for a positive student experience.
The fourth floor of Wassaja Hall features a lounge area as the elevator doors open, with places to sit and study or even watch TV. Many LLC residents already gathered here to cheer on the Chicago Cubs during the playoffs. Down the hall, there is a lookout area that brings in people for the view of campus and to find a quiet moment.
Each dorm room accommodates two students, featuring new furniture and wireless access. The residence hall has a laundry room, reservable kitchenette, vending machines, and a computer lab.
The location next to Ikenberry Dining Hall is ideal. And the athletic facilities are just a few blocks away to catch a football or basketball game. Two bus stops near the building make the rest of campus accessible within minutes.
“I still remember my first week on campus, because everything seemed so chaotic,” Jiang said. “Since then I’ve joined four student organizations. At Gies I’ve utilized the tutoring center for an economics class, and met with a peer advisor who talked me through all my business courses.
“At the center of it all is the Business LLC, where I’ve gone from feeling overwhelmed by it all to feeling comfortable and in control of my first year here.”