ROCK SPRINGS — It takes more than a few walls and a roof to make a home. Physical features such as a refrigerator, gaming system, or private bath are nice, but they don’t connect you with your neighbors.
Intangibles like security, belonging and acceptance can’t be ordered online and delivered overnight in cardboard boxes. The staff at Western Wyoming Community College recognizes that making people feel welcome and supported is an indispensible part of college success, and they are taking steps to make them feel at home. Students will see demonstrations of that prioritization from the moment they arrive on campus.
Saturday is the big moving day as housing check-in runs from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 17 at Mustang Central at the Rock Springs campus. Athletic teams from the college will be on hand to help move heavy or bulky items, along with WWCC staff who volunteer some of the final hours of time they have before the semester begins. Welcome Week activities continue every day through Saturday, Aug. 24, as the college hosts a welcome dance, movie nights, a home volleyball game, a pool party, Lolla-No-Booza, laser tag, pool night, and a whitewater rafting trip.
“We try to engage students from the beginning,” said Dr. Dustin Conover, the dean of students who is in his 16th year at WWCC. He added it is important to get them connecting with the campus and other students because the social aspect of college is an important part of the experience. Forming positive relationships is a big indicator of success like earning good grades.
Students can seek accommodations in seven buildings — six on the main Rock Springs campus and Aspen Mountain Hall, which is in a former hotel a short distance down the road. The college has 528 beds and had about 400 booked for the fall semester, according to Conover.
“Only 15% of a student’s time at college is spent in the classroom and preparing for the classroom,” WWCC’s website states. That leaves a lot of time and opportunities to help students further their education and development. The goal is for the students to form a “community within a community” at the college, according to Conover. They want to foster living learning centers where Mustangs come together.
A support staff and regular activities help create a friendly, appealing environment. A live-in professional supervises student staff who live among the other residents, serving as a resource or person they can go to day or night and enforcer of rules. Conover observed that they pride themselves on programming and being educational in a fun way. Multiple times a month they host sessions on topics ranging from stress management to alcohol and drug awareness to raising awareness about sexual assault.
FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION
Conover boasted that Western doesn’t have traditional dormitories that cram people into tight spaces and force them to share a bathroom with dozens of people. The design of the buildings and ways public areas are utilized are meant to promote interconnectivity.
The residence halls have plenty of natural lighting and community amenities like kitchens, computer labs, workout rooms, laundry facilities, game rooms and multipurpose rooms that can be reconfigured for study or entertainment. On-campus residents are free to use the facilities in any of the residence halls, but they must have a keycard to access them.
While public spaces are common, the college also recognizes the importance of personal privacy. Students never have to share a bathroom with more than three people, and many available rooms provide even more exclusivity.
The living quarters have different layouts: a one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, dining room, living room and bathroom; a two-bedroom design with a living room and bathroom; a semi-private suite where two students share a bathroom; a double suite where two students share a room on each side and all four share a bathroom; and an apartment where four people have individual bedrooms and share a kitchen, living room, storage room and two bathrooms. Conover said the last layout, which is found at Wind River Hall, is the most popular, while Teton, White Mountain and Snowy Range halls are next in demand due to their amenities like the kitchen.
The college’s efforts are paying off as WWCC students who live in the halls graduate at twice the rate as those who live off campus. Conover said if students want to put themselves in the best position to succeed, living on campus is his recommendation.
When it comes to incoming students, he advises them to purposely reach out to WWCC staff and ask a lot questions, especially if they don’t understand something or they need counsel. He also encourages them to connect with other students, both local and out of the area.
In addition, Conover shared words for parents who are dropping off their kids and returning to homes with empty rooms. He said they should take comfort in the fact that WWCC employees care a lot about their students and that their kids are going to be in good hands. If parents think their children aren’t doing well, or if they have concerns about things like their grades, homesickness or well-being, they’re welcome to reach out of the college and have Western staff check in on them.
“We’re glad to do whatever we can to help the parents in that supporting role,” Conover said.
The dean said the guiding principal is that students are the focus, and they are working to make the Mustangs feel empowered to succeed in college and beyond.