College Sparks Houses bring students together, offer a social alternative to Greek life

Gettysburg College’s Blue Note Jazz house attends Thanksgiving Dinner with Scott Wojciechowski (far left) (Photo Credit: gettysburg.edu)

By Phoebe Burr, Courtesy of GCC&M

How enriching would it be to have your professor come over and cook you dinner? How great would it be to always have your best friends as your study partners? These are just two of the benefits that students who live in Spark Houses get to enjoy on a regular basis.

Gettysburg College offers many opportunities for students to customize their residential experiences.

One of these opportunities is through the Spark House program, a series of themed houses correlating to academic or extra curricular interests.

Scott Wojciechowski, assistant director of residential and first-year programs, believes that Spark Houses truly illuminate the overall liberal arts experience, “Each community is driven by students and faculty partners who create seamless learning environments that advance the academic and co-curricular goals of the institution. The conversations, debates, or ‘aha’ moments that happen in the houses, whether right after class, during a review session, or at 2 a.m., enhance the undergraduate experience for many students.”

Spark Houses are founded on an academic discipline, something that Stacey Blannett ’16, the leader of the Science House, appreciates. “It’s great to live with people who respect an environment centered around academics.”

Science House members interact with faculty members at their house.

One of the overarching benefits found by all house leaders was the overlap of academic experiences and knowledge in the house. Upperclassmen in the house have often taken the classes that younger residents are currently taking, and can provide study help and tips; making ‘friend’ and ‘tutor’ synonymous. “There’s a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips which is cool and unique,” notes Audrey Bowler ’16, the Public Policy House leader.

Living in a Spark House opens doors to students for academic and extra-curricular opportunities that may not have been presented otherwise.

Bowler is closely involved with the Eisenhower Institute due to her residency in the Public Policy House. Working with EI gives her access to internship and job opportunities that she may not have been offered or exposed to otherwise, such as the opportunity to speak one on one with Letitia Long, the highest ranking female in the U.S. intelligence community.

One of the notable ways in which the classroom experience is transferred into Spark Houses is through the close relationships house members develop with professors.

Due to regular contact regarding department or Spark House hosted events, students develop connections with professors that extend beyond the traditional roles of student and teacher…to friend or mentor.

Professors contribute additional events for members of Spark Houses that are an extension of their discipline. For example, interdisciplinary studies Prof. Abdulkareem Said Ramadan recently hosted a hummus cooking class at the Middle East and Islamic Studies House.

Collaborative and relevant activities that integrate academics into the fun of a residential experience are what every Spark House strives to produce.

There are equally important social benefits that arise from the Spark House experience.

Residents feel as though their house is their family away from home, and that living with people who are like-minded is an effortless way to make lasting relationships.

For Spark House students, automatic friendships form through both a shared living space, and a shared passion.

Being a part of something that is bigger than one’s self is part of the college experience in general, but is also applicable to the Spark House residential experience. Spark Houses were first introduced to the Gettysburg College community seventeen years ago, and residents are proud to leave their mark on its history.

“We had alumni who lived here come back and visit one weekend, and it was cool to see them checking in on their legacies and getting excited to see the traditions still intact,” said David Dalton ’15, house leader of the Blue Note Jazz House.

Not only does this allow for residents of these houses to feel and find connections with alumni, but it also heightens the connections they feel to their residential experience and those who share it with them.

Spark Houses exemplify the multi-faceted liberal arts experience that Gettysburg College is able to offer to its students.

This option allows students to take ownership of their college experience and choose the environment in which choose to live.

Dalton reflects on his experience living in a Spark House fondly, as he says Spark Houses, “combine academic, social, and recreational interests in one college-owned facility to produce a family of students that are getting more out of their education than if they weren’t living there. What a novel idea.”

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Author: Isabel Gibson Penrose

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