Expanding Empowerment Beyond the Classroom – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Expanding Empowerment Beyond the Classroom

This fall, HWS Campus Life has expanded the offerings for the Personal Empowerment Institute to include a new type of Living and Learning Community called Personal Empowerment and Engagement Residential Seminar (PEERS).

While Personal Empowerment courses average 15-20 students, 10 students are enrolled in the PEERS program, available to all class years, where students live on the same floor of a residence hall and take the Reader’s College course “Personal Empowerment” together. PEERS extends the themes of the Reader’s College course into the daily lives of students in the residence halls and also includes additional programming throughout the academic year.

“‘Personal Empowerment’ really focuses on students applying emotional intelligence skills to their everyday life,” says Assistant Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Student Engagement and Conduct Brandon Barile.

Barile says that the partnerships between the course, Residential Education and Campus Life result in students who embrace continuous personal improvement and who actively work to make change happen within the larger HWS community. “If we can have positive outcomes for students who have a personal journey in the course and also transform as a more empathetic community, then I think we will have met our goal.”

PEERS students not only have a traditional Resident Assistant stationed with the Living and Learning Community, but also two peer mentors who have previously taken “Personal Empowerment” and work with students in small groups.

“I’m taking personal empowerment as a way to relieve stress from a busy schedule, as well as to better my character,” says Brianna Moore ’18. “Having only taken one class so far I was surprised to see how comfortable and close-knit we have become expressing our emotions and goals for the semester. I’m excited to see where this takes us.”

After analyzing the success of the first-year living and learning communities, Residential Education and Campus Life found the living model was an important aspect to the development of the students. In addition, the positive feedback that the Reader’s College course received influenced the decision to create the living community based on a class.

“The course provided a structure for me to develop healthy ways of thinking that inevitably impacted my attitude and relationships,” says Lauryn Downing ’17, who took all three of the Reader’s College classes.

After seven years of increasing popularity on campus, “Personal Empowerment” has grown from one section to three sections, and has been an integral part of more than 100 students’ education each semester. It has also expanded to include peer and community empowerment, focusing on mentoring and creating community empowerment initiatives.

“First-year students who live and take class together make meaningful social connections, have higher rates of active engagement in the halls, and tend to have overall higher satisfaction with their experiences on-campus,” Barile says.

Campus Life also partners with first-year seminar faculty for other living and learning communities.

Barile notes that student participants have shown an increased ability to see issues as opportunities, as well as greater self-awareness and acceptance.

“After the first class, I felt like it would be interesting since it focused on me, my self-awareness, and how to better myself,” says Read Bohanan ’19.