SMU Faculty in Residence

As live-in faculty members in SMU’s Residential Commons, Faculty in Residence (FiRs) serve as the intellectual leaders of their commons. The FiR program creates opportunities for students to know faculty members outside of the classroom and emphasizes a culture of mentorship, intellectual discourse and community.

The student Residential Commons Leadership Corps also is blogging at

Adventure on the Equator

An update from Dr. Tom Tunks, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the RC 3 Community:

My wife, Jeanne, and I had an outstanding adventure last month in Quito, Ecuador; it foreshadowed the kinds of things we will enjoy doing with members of our residential community starting in the fall. Not that we will be going to Ecuador with the RC, but living with, and doing things with students completely outside a class setting is something we’re looking forward to.

The adventure was an Alternative Break trip sponsored by SMU. A group of nine students and the two of us spent about a week in Quito working with the children of people who are vendors in the various markets around the city. These are hard-working people whose daily lives revolve around their market activity. They begin their days very early (around 4 a.m.), getting produce, meats, poultry, fish, or whatever they sell, from distributors (unless, of course, they grow their own). Their children spend the day with them preparing for market and staffing their booths.

tunksABThere is an organization (UBECI) that arranges programming for the children in the markets, so they can have educational and fun activities for a while during their market day. The children range in age from toddlers to pre-teens, so the activities need to be widely varied. Although UBECI has permanent staff members, they rely on the services of volunteers from around the world to help with the groups of children. Games and songs covering vocabulary, manners, basic concepts, etc., along with puzzles and toys address the more elementary learning needs of the children. For older children there are reading and writing activities as well. Those who attend school get help with homework.

One of the best things about the AB trips is the SMU student groups themselves. Watching and participating in the group’s development is a blast. Living together on a daily basis provides insights into people that you just can’t get in the classroom. Working as advisers to the very able student leaders of the group is rewarding in itself, and to watch their leadership skills grow, even across a one-week time is fascinating.

From overcoming travel snags, to navigating strange new places and customs (and Spanish!), to seeing exceptional sights (water doesn’t spin down the drain when you’re exactly on the equator – it just dumps), to staying up late reflecting on the experiences, our own personalities, the world in general, the whole package creates a strong bond among all involved.

I can see many parts of the residential community experience being similar to that.

NOTE – If you get a chance to go on an AB trip – do it!

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My Reflections

An update from Dr. Mark Kerins, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Morrison-McGinnis Residential Community:

As I’m writing this, we’re in the middle of a rare Dallas snowstorm and the roads have been pretty bad – I have to say, right now I’m really wishing I was already on campus and didn’t have to brave the crazy Dallas drivers to get to and from work.

So as you might guess from the previous sentence, I am not yet living in a dorm (or a Residential Commons, as they’ll all become next year), which makes me a little different from the past writers on this blog. I think all the posts thus far have been from colleagues who are already living on campus as part of the first wave of FiRs. I, on the other hand, won’t be moving in until the summer, when the rest of the inaugural Faculty-in-Residence will move onto campus in preparation for the launch of the Residential Commons program/system in Fall 2014. In fact, since Morrison-McGinnis will be undergoing renovation/construction this upcoming summer, I probably won’t be able to move in until August; it’s a little scary knowing my family will only have a couple weeks to move in and get situated before the building fills up with students, but also will get us accustomed to living with students around right away.

Until then, this is the FiR-living-in-Garland view on things. As an occasional writer here this spring, I’ll try to offer a little different perspective from the great stories about what it’s like living as a faculty-in-residence from those already doing it, instead focusing on the prep we’re doing behind-the-scenes in readying the RC launch for ALL the RCs, including those that don’t yet have faculty living in them and even those on the south quad that haven’t had anyone living in them yet.

We kicked off on-campus publicity for the Res Commons with a tent at Homecoming. My whole family came (my wife, Jessica, and our 2-year-old twins, Ben and Rory) to help, all of course in SMU gear. The kids got a kick out of homecoming – though they preferred the parade with people throwing candy to hanging around the tent. Not sure if the bounce house or the candy was the highlight but they had a busy day with it all and took a long nap after we went home.


Since then, I’ve been working with the fantastic Morrison-McGinnis leadership team – including Liz Rader in Res Life and students Alexis, Olivia, and Michael of the Residential Commons Leadership Corps (RCLC) – on figuring out plans for our RC. We’ve been busy figuring out plans for our RC, like what our motto will be, our crest, our planned traditions, community-building plans, and most importantly what we want the feel/vibe of our RC to be – how to make it unique and welcoming.

It’s an interesting challenge creating “traditions” and the like from scratch. I guess they have to start somewhere, but once something’s a tradition you never think of the people who originated it so that’s been a challenge – we’re trying to leave room for things to grow organically once we have our first full building of residents while also providing some foundational structures to build off. The same is true for the programming – we want the RAs, residents, and staff to all be part of figuring out what programming we do on both a one-off and ongoing basis (including which we hope/plan will be traditions), but also want to hit the ground running so can’t wait until the fall to start figuring it out. In fact, each RC is going to already have some events planned for the week students arrive on campus, so at least those early things we’re trying to get planned out this semester, while leaving more gaps later in the semester and year as we see what the vibe of our whole group is and what people want to do.

On the FiR-specific side, I’m dealing with much the same issue. My wife and I have a lot of ideas for events and programming to do, but also don’t want to overdo it and have too much planned. One thing I’m learning from my colleagues already on campus is that more informal events seem to generally work better. I’m sure a lot of it will be figuring things out the first semester and year – after all, that’s part of the excitement and challenge of helping launch the RC program at SMU is that we’re making parts of it up as we go along and are going to have to be flexible. But we’re looking forward to the challenge. And I figure people are always up for a movie night with food, right?

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Happy Australia Day, Mate!

An update from Dr. Robert Krout, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Mary Hay/Peyton Residential Community:

Australia Day 1Australia Day is a national holiday down under and held each year on January 26. One Australian historian observed that the event has traditionally been celebrated with “merriment.” Despite its colonial associations, the occasion is still held on the day when Europeans first founded (conquered/invaded, really) the colony of New South Wales on January 26, 1788, the beginnings of what is now Sydney. Even today the event is celebrated with tall ships coming to Sydney Harbour followed by a grand array of evening fireworks.

We celebrated Australia Day in my FiR apartment on the day, with food prepared by Visiting Professor of Music History Dr. Andrew Greenwood, who is Australian. The dinner was accompanied by an Australian music playlist from Dr. Greenwood’s iPad. Dr. Greenwood prepared a variety of Aussie dishes, which were enjoyed by students, faculty (me and our FAs), and RAs and RLSH staff alike. There were a total of 31 celebrants. Dishes included Damper (“bushman’s bread,” traditionally cooked over a campfire), and Australian sausage rolls. Desserts included homemade Lamingtons and Pavlova. Some brave souls tried the damper with Vegemite.

For drink we enjoyed Bundaberg Ginger Beer (the non-alcoholic kind made with real ginger from the outback town of Bundaberg in Queensland), and Tim Tams (chocolate cookies). The salad was prepared with baby spinach, orange, goat cheese, and macadamia nut salad (macadamias are originally Australian). As can be seen by the photo, this was a great gathering. We all learned more about the day and Australian customs, food, and culture from Dr. Greenwood, who shared throughout the affair. Thanks to Professor Greenwood for a grand celebration!

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Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt

An update from Dr. Robert Krout, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Mary Hay/Peyton Residential Community:

Scavenger Hunt 2Dr.KAs a FiR, I have many opportunities to support and take part in programming with our wonderful RA staff. An example of this was a “murder mystery scavenger hunt,” which took place in November between Mary Hay and Peyton Halls. The theme of the evening as designed by the RAs was helping residents learn more about all of the resources available to them in our residential community. Students also followed clues found at each successive station or destination on the hunt designed to solve a fictitious murder that had supposedly occurred in our RC. These clues eventually led the students to my FiR apartment to discover that I had been “the killer”!Scavenger HuntDrK

Of course, while I didn’t kill anyone, I did have a spread of snacks and drinks ready (with RA assistance, of course), and we had a great social hour after the “crime” had been solved. This was a great and fun way for students to learn more about their residential community while also coming together for refreshments and socializing with me and the RAs at the conclusion of the evening.


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The Weekly Update: The Perot Museum

An update from Dr. Robert Krout, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Mary Hay/Peyton Residential Community:

DrK 3As a FiR, I have the pleasure of planning outings for our community that combine intellectual and leisure aspects for our residents. DrK 1A recent example is an afternoon trip downtown to visit the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

Nineteen students, an RA, and our RCD (Residential Community Director) traveled with me via DART to the Pearl St Station, where we debarked and walked to the museum via the Arts District. This was a good way for students to learn how to use DART to get to destinations such as the Meyerson Symphony Center, Winspear Opera House, Nasher Sculpture Garden, Wylie Theatre, Dallas Museum of Art, and others. We also walked through the new and amazing Klyde Warren Deck Park on the way to the Perot. This is a great way to see some of the spectacular Dallas architecture.

At the Perot, we spent two hours exploring the museum in small groups. A scavenger hunt was included as an option, which really challenged students to look in every nook and cranny for exhibits and items. There were many popular displays, including the many dinosaur skeletons, gems and minerals, exhibits on outer space and our galaxy, brain science, and others.DrK 2 A number of items and exhibits were sponsored by or on loan from SMU, and some students even recognized some SMU professors linked to the exhibits as their instructors this semester!

Because the museum has so many great resources, a number of students said they would like to return again in the future to see more and introduce their friends to this great Dallas resource. I look forward to my next visit to the Perot!

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Diary of an FiR: What do you DO with them? Part 2

An update from Ann Batenburg, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Virginia-Snider Residential Commons:

November 25, 2013

As I reported in a previous post, whenever I tell someone about what I am doing here in the residence hall, the first question they ask is, “What’s it like living with students?” The second question that I am inevitably asked is, “What do you DO with them?” Last time, I wrote about Sunday Night Snacks and Pancakes and Potter. This time I’ll describe some other programs and activities – some have been successful and some haven’t been.

A smaller-scale but successful effort has been Celebrity Chef. This is actually my diabolical plan to get out of cooking for students – really, with my cooking skills, it benefits everyone to have me NOT cook. When I began the interview process, students always asked if I would host dinners and cook for them. It was a bit awkward for me, this question, so I had to come up with some way to say, “Yes, of course, there will be dinners.” So, I invite other people, “celebrity” chefs, to cook for the students. The sheer number of people who want to cook for the students overwhelms me. Friends of mine are growing offended, because I have not yet called their number to be the Celebrity Chef. This program involves only a small number of students (4-6) and is an “invitation-only” event. I am finding that the letters “RSVP” are mostly meaningless to undergraduates, so how many show up on the night of the dinner has been a surprise! Students help with the cooking and there is always a good discussion. At the last dinner, we discussed sustainability and environmentally friendly living, among other things. There is such a warm, family atmosphere that grows over the course of the evening – it is working exactly like I hoped it would!

I have tried to get students to come to the apartment after the Tate Lectures for “Treats and Discussion,” but that one seems to fall a bit flat – only 1-4 students have ever showed. Not sure why – maybe the programs during the week are inherently less well attended? Maybe the students who go to the Tate Lectures have already spent an hour of valuable studying time on the lecture itself and need to go study? I will keep trying on that one, mostly because I would like to discuss the speakers afterward, and it is a nice time to get to know the few students who do come.

Other activities that are involved in the FiR job have been:

• A weekly staff meeting with the RAs, RCD (Residential Community Director), and Community Chaplain. Great team – we laugh a lot.
• A semi-weekly meeting with my RCD, during which we discuss grocery lists, programs, expectations, and whatever else has come up. We are becoming good friends. That relationship is key to making this job work – the FiR and RCD relationship must be collegial and collaborative.
• Eating in the cafeteria with students. I haven’t managed this very well – I have a hard time escaping my desk in Simmons during the day, so eating more often with the students is a priority for next semester.
• Bumping into students and chatting with them all over campus. I had one of these serendipitous collisions with a student, a Sunday Night Snacks regular, a couple of weeks ago when I was all dressed up for work. He said that he almost didn’t recognize me. When I asked why, he responded, “Because I normally see you in lounge wear.” This is true – I do not dress up for baking. This same student promises to give me the novella he just finished writing, so I can read it over break.
• A beautiful thing has recently developed. The students have to come to me to make requests. I have been attending Community Council meetings about once each month. (Community Council is the aggregate of the hall president and officers, floor presidents and representatives, and the RCD. This is an additional layer of programming and engagement available to students.) Community Council members have asked if they can tie some of their programming efforts to Sunday Night Snacks. So, one Sunday, we made a poster for the SMU troops for Veterans Day. Another Sunday, we made holiday cards for the troops during this time, and started a hall-wide game while munching on cookies.

I see this as a sign that the students are embracing this FiR thing, and we are all beginning to expand our understanding of it as we go. Though starting a position that is not clearly defined is a challenge, it is also exhilarating. We get to create what this looks like. In my life, I have rarely been involved in such a positive creative effort. Each FiR with each staff in each hall in the new Residential Commons will get to create new traditions. We are working right now on choosing our colors and creating a crest for Virginia-Snider with the Residential Commons Leadership Corps members, a la Harry Potter’s Gryffindor. I am researching some history of Virginia-Snider Hall, and we are inventing the atmosphere that we hope VS will have in the future.

What do I do with students? I’m having way too much fun with them. See you next semester!

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Diary of an FiR: What do you DO with them?

An update from Ann Batenburg, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Virginia-Snider Residential Commons:

November 18, 2013

As I reported in the previous post, whenever I tell someone about what I am doing here in the residence hall, the first question they ask is, “What’s it like living with students?” The second question that I am inevitably asked is, “What do you DO with them?” Well…

The first thing I did with them was, really, not much. At the beginning of this adventure, I wrote about feeling like a creepy middle-aged woman hanging around, and, as it turns out, my intuition was fairly accurate. I ran into a student today in Simmons who greeted me quite warmly when she realized that I was the FiR in Virginia-Snider. She doesn’t live in my building, but she lives in another building which has a FiR. She said quite openly, “Yeah, at first it was kinda weird. I didn’t really understand it. But now it’s cool. My FiR is great! I really like him.” There you go. At first, it was “kinda weird” for all of us. Now, we all understand this role a bit better. Today, I’ll give you two examples of programs that have been successful with students.

I’ve written about Sunday Night Snacks, so if you follow this little blog, you know that I have between 30-50 students stop by every Sunday night for treats. I start baking around 6 pm, chocolate chip cookies and muffins, and open my door around 8:30 pm, usually to someone waiting, which is lovely. Last week, I opened my door while I was baking, and several students stopped by to chat apart from the crowd. Again, lovely. Football game is on the TV in the background – and honestly, 8 out of 10 Sunday nights in the fall, I would be sitting on the couch watching the game anyway, so baking during that time is not a significant hardship by any means. (Except once, I did cook early when the Bears were on.) In fact, every Sunday, I check in with myself to see if I’m feeling at all annoyed or worn out or burdened by this commitment. And every Sunday so far, I think to myself, “What a delightful way to earn my room and board.” At this point, I look very forward to checking in with students who are my “regulars” and miss them when they don’t show up. There are also new people coming every week, which is great, too! That means people are speaking positively about it, if not physically dragging their roommates down to the apartment.

Pancakes and Potter was another program that was successful. So many students in this age bracket grew up with Harry Potter – a window that is slowly (and sadly) closing. I taught fifth grade during the phenomenon that was HP, so I am a huge fan as well. (The kind of fan and former elementary school teacher that judges you harshly if you have not read the books – the BOOKS, people, not just the movies!) So, getting students together for breakfast (at 11 am – breakfast time for the late adolescent) to discuss the books, eat some pancakes, and maybe stay to watch the movie, seemed like an absolutely beautiful way to spend a Saturday. Fourteen students showed up for Book 1! Wow! Not a small irony that this woman, who neither has children nor cooks very well, made breakfast for 14 people. Such fun I had! We will continue this program, roughly once each month, taking each book in turn, hopefully completing the series over the course of the year.

I have to say that my RAs and RCD (Residential Community Director) have been integral to making these programs work. They are always there to support me and participate, and I feel like we are a great team. I couldn’t do any of this without this amazing group of people. I feel very lucky.

In the next post, I will describe some of the other programs and activities involved in this gig. Stay tuned.

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Snacks and good conversations

An update from Dr. Robert Krout, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Mary Hay/Peyton Residential Community:

FirBlog Munch n' Mingle

As a FiR, my number one priority is getting to know and interacting with our residents in a variety of ways that allow each student opportunities to feel included in our community.

I have learned that laid-back and unstructured gatherings can be meaningful settings for student-faculty interaction. One of the informal settings I have been enjoying is the weekly “Munch n’ Mingle” in my FiR apartment. This happens on Tuesday evenings, and is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. (although residents sometimes arrive early and often stay late). As of this writing, there have been 10 Munch n’ Mingles this semester. Numbers of students have ranged from 2 to 16. Some residents are “regulars,” and others may come only once or twice to “check it out.”

There are always snacks and drinks, and the atmosphere is very informal. We discuss a number of topics from scholarly to silly, and there are often multiple conversations happening between various participants at any given time. We also sometimes share music, with my guitar (or ukulele) passed around the circle. The TV is occasionally turned on as well if there is something on that we can watch together and discuss. These gatherings have allowed me to get to know a number of students, and I look forward to Munch n’ Mingling through the rest of the academic year!

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Diary of an FiR: What’s it like?

An update from Ann Batenburg, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Virginia-Snider Residential Commons:

November 11, 2013

Whenever I tell someone about what I am doing here in the residence hall, the first question they ask is, “What’s it like living with students?” As if the average undergraduate is a life form from another planet. After about two and a half months now, I have an answer worth sharing.

First of all, I am more worried about disturbing them than I am worried about being disturbed. Though there is an occasional explosion of silly laughter from the hallway, most of the time it is very quiet in here. I can hear a toilet flush above me, and I can hear the conversations of those walking past my home outside every once in a while. I could be in any apartment building in any town, except this apartment building has unusually polite and studious neighbors. Except on game day, of course. Few normal apartment buildings have a huge block party going on outside their door six Saturdays each fall. One either has to join them or vacate the premises completely. There is no in-between. Best to join!

Second, we are finding a rhythm to the semester. The university and RLSH staff has so much programming during the first six weeks of the semester that it would be difficult to add much independently as a FiR. I started my Sunday Night Snacks right away to establish the routine, but that was nearly the only programming I did for the first month that was really all mine – if anything is really all mine. The RAs continue to be incredibly supportive, helpful and absolutely delightful. I feel like I have made several new, good friends in the RAs and RCD.

For the rest of that first month, I was mostly a part of a team that planned programming and participated in other events that were already on the calendar (like Drag Bingo). The experienced Mustangs are still getting used to their schedules, working hard in new classes, and getting back in touch with friends missed over the summer, while the first years are still rather wide-eyed and overwhelmed after six weeks. They are starting to get their sea legs now. By next semester, I am sure they will be just fine! Now I am finding that programming will mostly end after Thanksgiving because students will be full-on studying for finals and finishing up end-of-the-semester projects. Food will still be provided on a regular basis – lots of “study break” programming planned, but nothing too taxing. It has gone so fast! I have, on average, done “stuff” with students around three times each week. I will explain the kinds of things I am doing more in a future post.

Finally, I’m finding that I really love my new neighborhood. It’s like any neighborhood, really. I stop to chat with my neighbors when we are out wandering around or heading to class – it’s not quite over the back hedge when we’re doing yard work, but it has the same effect. I have started going to Dedman more often to exercise. I have figured out how to get to the Katy Trail on my bike and have procured a bike locker, which serves as a garage of sorts, so I no longer have to park my bicycle in my extra bedroom. I go to more things on campus, because I am right here. Elizabeth Gilbert did a reading at the church the other night. I have attended student performances at Meadows. I have gone Boulevarding far more often than I would have done if I had to drive here. I have a party with the students every Sunday night, which I love, and though my introverted self is stretched after ten or so weeks, I am finding time to be alone, to meditate, and to relax. My favorite thing to do, honestly? I can walk to the Seven-Eleven to pick up a gallon of milk when I am out. I can walk almost everywhere. There have been a few weeks during which I have not even laid eyes on my car and have forgotten where I parked it. The commute is awesome.

It feels very normal at this point to “live with students.” I have a new place to live that is mostly just like every other place I have lived, except my neighbors are a hell of a lot smarter than most people. So far, so good! If you have a specific question, do leave it in a comment!

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Diary of an FiR: Living on campus

An update from Ann Batenburg, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Virginia-Snider Residential Commons:

September 1, 2013

I feel like I live here tonight. It always takes me a few weeks to get comfortable in a new place, and I am feeling pretty comfortable tonight. Thunderstorms drew me out of my humble abode this evening – one downside of living in a residence hall is that the outside noise is often muffled (Boulevarding days, a notable exception), so I cannot hear thunderstorms very well. I found that I have a lovely neighborhood.

I thought I heard a marching band playing, but why would a marching band be playing at 11 p.m. on the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend? In a thunderstorm? (If anyone can solve this mystery for me, please leave a comment.) I decided to chase the sound, but its origin eluded me. Apart from a few feral undergraduates playing in fountains, it was very peaceful.

I realize that there have been several reports of incidents on campus, but I feel very safe here walking on my own. There are always people walking around, the Giddy-Up drivers zooming about, and police patrolling carefully. I pay attention to my surroundings and do not listen to an iPod. I have my phone; I’ve taken precautions. So far, so good.

This campus is amazing at night. I recently read that Paris elevates accent lighting to an art form; certainly, SMU is not far behind. The fountains are lit, some, like the Late Fountain, are multicolored. The trees along the Boulevard make a gorgeous canopy for a stroll. Perkins Chapel, set back modestly from the Boulevard, classic and dignified during the day, transforms impressively under the lights into something elegant and striking. The roses there are lovely. So far, it is my favorite place to sit for general contemplation of life, the universe, and everything. Yet, there is so much more to explore.

By now, students have all found their secret nooks in which to curl up and study. (Fear not! Your secrets are safe with me.) These nooks are, very practically, all inside buildings. I am determined to find my secret nook outside on these wonderful grounds. At some point, I will make a complete survey of fountains and cupolas. At some point, I will procure a key to Barr pool for midnight swims. At some point, these evening constitutionals will yield my favorite hidden place on campus. But not tonight. Tonight was the first walk, surveying the grounds of my new home, serenaded by thunder and tickled by a light, cool rain after an exceedingly hot day. Tonight, I decide that I will love living here.

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