ACES House as exemplary practice in residential learning communities

For more than a decade, first- and second-year students at NIU have had the option to live in a residential community that helps them connect their courses and interests to career and academic paths, and ultimately declare a major. Now, NIU’s Academic and Career Exploratory Scholars (ACES) House is highlighted as an exemplary practice for undecided students in the most recent edition of the “Undecided College Student: An Academic and Career Advising Challenge” by Virginia N. Gordon and George E. Steele.

ACES House was initially established as the Exploring Majors House about 12 years ago and has built a reputation as a high-impact educational practice that provides students experiences that aid in their development and increases their retention in college.

Michelle Pickett, director of the Academic Advising Center, was contacted by Steele after he found during the research phase of the book that NIU had a living-learning/residential community for undecided students.

“I believe this endeavor is successful because students are eager to learn and we strive to connect with them to help them discover where their skills and interests are best suited for their future major or career,” Pickett said.

Kentrice Frison, of Chicago, IL, is currently a junior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in management with an emphasis in entrepreneurship and social responsibility, and a minor in marketing. She is also the CEO and founder of her own small business, which specializes in interchangeable fashion accessories.

Frison moved to ACES house during her freshman year and took advantage of nearly all the programs offered, including joining the ACES Leadership Council and eventually becoming the House Leader.

“Coming into NIU not knowing exactly what I wanted to study, it felt like the right place to be to explore different majors,” she said. “The best part about living in ACES House was not only being able to serve as a resource but the close connections that I was able to make to every resident.”

Alejandra Flores, of Cicero, IL, is a first-generation college freshman who said ACES House helped her address the challenges of being the first in her family to go to college. Flores said she’s always dreamed of being a doctor, so she’s currently pursuing a pre-med path of studies but hasn’t declared a major.

Flores said her involvement in the ACES house has inspired her involvement on campus and has also exposed her to the many programs, events and academic offerings of the university.

“Since I knew I wasn’t going to stay home once school started, I looked up the different housing buildings NIU provided and the ACES house seemed to have the description I was looking for: They wanted students who were undecided, and I wanted their help,” she explained.

Additional information about living-learning programs as a high-impact educational practice is available at https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/living-learning-programs-one-high-impact-educational-practice-we.

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