Butler students sit in Catherine Pangan’s apartment of Fairview House. Photo courtesy of Catherine Pangan.
CALVIN PRENKERT | STAFF REPORTER | Cprenker@butler.edu
Floating paper boats down the flooded basement of Ross Hall, watching his son ride along the hallway on roller skates in an inflatable T-Rex costume, and playing card games like “Exploding Kittens” or “What Do You Meme?” with residents are just some of the things that Mark Rademacher, associate professor of strategic communication, has done as a Faculty in Residence at Butler.
A FIR is a faculty member who permanently lives in a Butler residence hall with their family, and provides academic and recreational programming for students in their hall, living learning community or unit. The Rademacher’s are one of nine FIRs on Butler’s campus.
Rademacher lives with his wife Dusty and sons, Reid and Arlo, on the fourth floor of Irvington House. While they are entering their fourth year as a FIR family, their roots in a residential living environment run deep, as the couple initially met as residential assistants at the University of Tennessee.
“We want to help humanize faculty members to first years, to let you know that we’re here to support students and not be a pain in your butt,” Rademacher said.
Rademacher also said he hopes that it will help students interact with faculty members and be open when communicating about what they need.
AJ Hessburg, a first-year international studies major who lives in the same hallway as the Rademacher’s, feels their presence in positive ways.
“I think that having a faculty in residence has brought us together more as a unit,” Hessburg said. “Having their family here makes it feel a bit more like home.”
Catherine Pangan, associate professor of education, is a 12-year veteran of the FIR program. She lives in Fairview House with her husband Roland and two children, Hudson and Violet. She learned about the program from other FIRs who recommended her for the program.
“It has just gone beyond my wildest dreams of student engagement and just that connection with students that helps bridge the academics with the residential experience,” Pangan said.
Even for those who aren’t in their first year, like the sophomores living in Fairview, Pangan believes the program is still equally beneficial.
“Sophomores have a unique developmental level,” Pangan said. “They understand campus and feel comfortable on campus but still really like that touch point, and people who like to hang out with faculty in residence families continue to take advantage of that.”
For Rademacher, the experience has helped him transform the way he teaches and supports students within the classroom.
“It has really helped me evolve as an educator to be better aware of and responsive to the various demands students face and the various challenges they face,” Rademacher said.
By utilizing different types of programming, such as camping retreats, attending Butler cultural requirement events, doing yoga on the mall and eating meals together, FIRs can give students an opportunity to have a strong support system while also allowing them to become more comfortable communicating with faculty and staff.
Antwain Hunter, assistant professor of history and a FIR in ResCo, has noticed a difference in the way he interacts and teaches students after working for three years as a FIR. Hunter believes students can begin to see and communicate with members of the faculty more comfortably.
“It allows students to see faculty in a way where we’re not these stiff academic beings in a classroom,” Hunter said. “Students have planted flowers at my dining room table or they come by to talk to my cat or have snacks, and they’re in my living room so they can see the art I have on my walls and see my decorating style. It bridges the gap between the academic affairs side of things and the students affairs kind of thing; we close that gap and it allows students to see us in a different light.”
Married faculty members, Art Furman, a lecturer in the College of Education, and Sally Click, the dean of students, are currently serving in their second year at Ross Hall. Prior to their decision to become FIRs, the 30 minute commute from their home in Zionsville to Butler was beginning to become tedious. So when the couple heard of a surplus of students needing to be placed at Ross, they jumped on the chance to be FIRs.
“Getting to take students to a jazz concert, some plays, or some readings and lectures has been rewarding for us, along with the ones who end up going,” Furman said.
While the relationships developed is primarily directed towards serving students and their needs, FIRs acknowledge that the relationship from families to student often becomes mutually beneficial throughout the year, especially with regards to the development of their own children.
“At first I thought I was going to have to be really protective,” Pangan said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect living with college students, but it turned out to be the opposite. The Butler students have always been such strong role models for my kids, and I think my kids are better people because of this experience.”
For Rademacher, living with students has helped give his kids friends to engage with, and he has wonderful memories from those times. Arlo would draw and play games with students. And Reid, who Rademacher called his “shy introverted teen,” enjoys teaching students games.
Even though the students may only live in the residence hall where the families or faculty members are located for one year, the relationships and investment in their lives can often supersede that year and end up lasting throughout the duration of one’s time on campus.
“We know so many more people on this campus and get to support so many more students through this role than I would get to touch as a faculty member in one department teaching a certain set of classes,” Rademacher said. “That’s what has been very, very rewarding — seeing students as first years come in and try and find their footing to grow in to campus leaders who are making great choices.”