Instant connections through themed dorm communities

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Selena Quintanilla and [SelenahQ] | The Daily Wildcat

Yuma Residence Hall on James E. Rogers Way.

There are plenty of ways for students to make new friends across campus, from participating in Greek Life to joining clubs or intramural sports teams. One of the lesser known methods available at the University of Arizona are themed dorm communities where like-minded people can connect during the first year of school.

University dorms contain different theme options. For instance, Yavapai Residence Hall is home to the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Scholars Community, and Manzanita-Mohave Residence Hall houses the Arts District Theme Community.

Melissa Sarmiento Ayala is the coordinator for Engineering Honors and Residential programs. She said she has been working as a supervisor for both the Cambium: STEM Scholars Theme Community and the Engineering Leadership Community for a year and a half.

“It’s really about creating a sense of belonging and finding a built-in community entering college,” Ayala said. “It’s a big transition living in college after high school. It’s many students’ first times living away from home, or even out of the state, and themed dorms are an opportunity to make friends and rely on each other for help.”

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Emma Collier, a UA sophomore double majoring in psychology and gender and women studies, was part of the honors dorms during her freshman year. The dorm community was based in Árbol de la Vida Residence Hall before the current Honors Village was built last year, according to Collier.

“I met a lot of students who were very driven and academically focused, which fostered healthy study habits and prioritization of academics,” Collier said. “I would recommend joining a themed community because it’s a good way to give yourself a head start to make friends who have similar interests.”

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Ayala explained that students often create study groups, take introductory success courses together and often go on to become roommates with each other during their second and third years of school when they move out of the dorm. In these success courses, students get to know campus resources as well as talk to faculty members and student clubs or chapters.

“They get to connect not only with each other but also with the campus at large,” Ayala said. “I wish I had had themed dorms when I was a student, but those opportunities were not there at the time.”

Ayala also emphasized that themed dorm communities can improve student retention by making students feel more connected to the school. She said students from the dorm communities often stay engaged and give back to the UA as a whole because they often go on to become leaders, ambassadors and mentors in their colleges throughout the rest of their time in university.

Sara Amiot is a UA alumna who graduated with a degree in natural resource management in May 2019. According to Amiot, she was part of the Outdoor Adventures Theme Community in the Cochise Residence Hall during her freshman year. Amiot joined the themed dorm to meet people who had similar interests to her that weren’t school related.

“I definitely recommend themed dorms to other students,” Amiot said. “It was how I made my best friends in college.”

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The Outdoor Adventures Theme Community provided a way for students to explore Tucson, according to Amiot, and everyone in the theme lived on the same floor of their dorm together.

“It is very important to have a community like that when you first enter college,” Amiot stated.

According to Ayala, there has been a history of themed community dorms for engineering majors for at least a decade, and the current Engineering Leadership Community was originally called E-Zone.

Students in the ELC go on college-sponsored field trips, receive advice and direction from faculty members, explore the varied engineering majors and professions and have Engineering Peer Mentors, according to the ELC webpage. Students must be admitted into the College of Engineering to be part of the themed community. Each dorm contains similar criteria and activities specific to their theme.

“If I wanted to be research focused, I would join Cambium, but if I were more of an engineering mindset and wanted hands-on activities, I would join the ELC,” Ayala said, 

Students have the opportunity to apply to the themes when they submit housing applications on MyUAHome. The process opens in January and space is limited, so students should apply as soon as they know they are interested, according to the themed communities website.

The current themed dorms options are: APIDA, Building Leaders and Creating Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K.), Blue Chip Leadership, Cambium: STEM Scholars, ELC, Health Sciences, O’odham Ki, the Eller Pre-Professional Academic Communities of Excellence (PACE), TAD and the Transfer community.

According to Ayala, “it’s a great way to make friends quickly and get ahead start at the UA.” 


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