By Suzanne Weiss/Director of Public Relations
MANITOWOC, Wis. — “I can’t even imagine it not being here. It’s crucial to the success of our students,” said Erin LaBonte of Learning Communities, a Silver Lake College initiative focusing on freshmen. LaBonte is adviser for the program as well as associate professor of art and art department co-chair.
“As we move into the third year of Learning Communities, it’s been amazing to watch the students grow and develop as students, as employees and as leaders in their community,” said faculty adviser Katie Walkner, history instructor and chair of the department of arts and humanities.
The program orients campus newcomers to the college and the community, helps them build connections with other students and faculty, and is designed to prevent them from giving up on their studies.
For sophomore Ni Paw, Learning Communities helped her overcome her fear of public speaking as she got to know members of the group. “They motivated me and cheered me on so I wouldn’t be nervous,” she said.
“It helps fill that gap between high school and college,” said freshman Israel González, who is looking forward to taking part in the program this fall. “It starts a week before school and includes team-building exercises that help us get to know each other, the staff, the campus and Manitowoc.”
New students are grouped into several Learning Communities, where they focus on topics including academics, residential life, mission, campus jobs, tutoring and counseling.
“The students form a community. They help one another,” LaBonte said. “We create a bond so that students feel more comfortable reaching out to faculty. We help them figure out a four-year plan, talk about goals and where they want to be.”
The program helps Silver Lake College as well, by being a source of information on how the college can better help its students, she said.
“A lot of our students are first-generation students. Learning Communities is particularly important to them. We find out where they’re coming from, their backgrounds and how they’re progressing,” LaBonte, said.
“We also try to integrate them into the community, otherwise the campus can be kind of isolating. We’re going to hop on the bus with them so they know where we are. It’s important they realize there are venues and opportunities in the community,” she said.
More faculty members will be coming on board in fall. In addition to LaBonte and Walkner, faculty advisers for Learning Communities will include Steve Kuehl, assistant professor of mathematics and mathematics department chair, and Dr. Emilie Lindemann, associate professor of English.
Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora, a faculty adviser during the 2016-17 academic year, said she found great satisfaction in helping with the professional training of students in conjunction with SLC Works, the college’s recently introduced Work College Program.
“It has been a real gift to coach students in the art and skill of professional self-advocacy, to see them grow in this skill and to see this skill improve their presence in the classroom,” said Sister Marie Kolbe, assistant professor and department chair of the department of theology and ministry. “They have learned that professional challenges rarely have an immediate solution; they have also learned that patient, intelligent and respectful self-advocacy in dialogue with the right people will result in a solution, even if it takes some time.”