Campus: CSU East Bay -- October 10, 2005

Cal State East Bay Professor is First to Live in University Dorm

Shirley Yap spent the week before classes began like a typical freshman - scoping out the campus, unpacking clothes and moving into the dorm.

Only Yap isn't a student. She's a new tenure-track assistant professor of mathematics and Cal State East Bay's first faculty in residence at Pioneer Heights.

The idea of having faculty live in residence halls alongside students is not new to college campuses. Cornell University, for instance, has had a faculty-in-residence program since 1980. But this is the first time Cal State East Bay has tried it.

"I'm the guinea pig," said Yap, who earned her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania.

Yap will be living in a Pioneer Heights studio apartment until the end of May. She gets free rent in exchange for attending student housing events and, well, just doing what people do in student housing.

"Hopefully students will see here's someone who is a professor and has a Ph.D., but she's human," said Yap. "I have to do laundry, I have to eat, I have time problems like everyone else."

Giving students a chance to interact with professors outside the classroom can help them feel more comfortable in class, said David Travis, the interim assistant vice president of Student Affairs.

"A lot of students are intimidated by professors," he said. "This is a way to see them as people."

Settling in. After her first week in her new home, Yap was still strategizing over how to arrange the 578-square-foot studio. The furnished apartment has a kitchen, a private bath, storage closet and a mini-patio. Like many of her 380 residence hall neighbors, Yap arrived on campus with too much stuff and not enough space.

Cramming her own furniture in with the chairs, desks and tables that came with the place has been a challenge. A wooden loft bed Yap built herself dominates the sleeping-living area with futon seating underneath. Like the other front doors in the complex, Yap's door is plastered with fliers and posters students taped up to advertise activities.

"They treat me like everyone else," she said.

Been there, done that. Yap found her way to Pioneer Heights through an ad in the student newspaper last summer. She visited the housing complex and then filled out an application.

"This seemed ideal because I could get acclimated into the university," she said. "As an undergraduate I had very good experiences with faculty-in-residence professors. I think I can have that kind of influence on students."

Yap was the only faculty member to apply for the apartment.

"I think next time we'll advertise earlier," said Travis. "But we got lucky because we got the perfect person right off. She has a very outgoing nature, and she's a person a student would feel comfortable talking to."

So far, no one has asked Yap to buy beer for them, but during her first week, she had already talked to three students about academic issues. One felt his professor was brushing off his questions in class when he tried to go beyond the assigned material. She advised the student to go to the professor's office hours with some of his questions.

"I explained the challenges from the professor's point of view," she said.

The learning experience cuts both ways.

"I think it's cool for us to finally be able to say we have some faculty living on campus," said Pioneer Heights resident Jennifer Burks. "It illustrates that Cal State East Bay faculty and students are equal. Faculty can understand what it is we go through. The stress is just continuing."

Media Contact: Donna Hemmila, Associate Dir. of Public Affairs, (510) 885-4295

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