Living and learning in clusters

Shared communities in residence

Chloe Westlake - June 3, 2014

Student Life Administrator Katrina Persad, photographed in the Mini-Res, which hosts the Global Village Cluster this fall. (Danny Abriel photo)

Yoga, molecular gastronomy experiments and holiday-themed feasts — just a few of the activities students organized in residence communities this past year.

This fall, changes to Dal’s residence communities, or “clusters,” on the Halifax campuses will offer students even more opportunities for beyond-the-books education.  

Clusters, also known as “living learning communities,” give students with shared interests the chance to live together in residence. Clusters are meant to foster strong networks of peer support and provide the opportunity to learn valuable skills outside the classroom.

Clusters have been part of the Dal residence experience since 2007, but significant changes have been lined up for the 2014/15 academic year. These include merging and renaming clusters, introducing a substance-free section focusing on holistic health and wellness, and creating a new “cluster residence assistant” role to support events and programming.

This fall, Dal’s Dalhousie’s residences will be home to five Academic and Themed Clusters. The academic clusters include the Engineering Cluster, located on Sexton Campus, as well as the Arts and Sciences Cluster. The themed clusters include the new Global Village, Healthy Active Living, and Leaders in Action Clusters.

Networks of support


Students living in one of the two academic clusters will enjoy access to extra support with their coursework, resource referrals and pre-exam tutoring. The themed clusters will provide programming around specific interests, like community outreach and volunteering in the Leaders in Action Cluster, or nutrition workshops in the Healthy Active Living Cluster.

Each community will have a designated cluster residence assistant: a student staff member who will deliver all the supports a residence assistant provides, as well as plan and facilitate activities particular to the cluster. Cluster residence assistants will, in turn, be supported by Katrina Persad, student life administrator with Dal Reslife.

Persad was instrumental in facilitating the changes to the cluster communities, but coming up with the new clusters was a collaborative effort involving the whole ResLife Team and heavily informed by student input. For example, the Leaders in Action and Healthy Active Living Clusters were created based on themes requested by residence students surveyed last year.  

Elyse Holmes, a student going into her third year of Biology, will be a cluster residence assistant in the Global Village Cluster.

Holmes’ enthusiasm for the cluster program, and her role as a student leader in residence, is palpable. She’s already planning activities like international food and film nights, a visit to the World Tea House, global holiday celebrations, a visit from a Hindu Ayurveda specialist who creates personalized “food horoscopes,” and an exam-time stress-buster night complete with children’s stories from around the world and cookies and milk.

Compelling communities


In total, 134 residence spaces are devoted to the clusters — just over five per cent of beds on the Halifax campuses. The largest is the Arts and Sciences Cluster, made up of 51 beds in Howe Hall’s Studley House with the smallest being the Leaders in Actions Cluster, which covers 14 spaces in Shirreff Hall’s Annex.

“Registration is filling up quickly,” says Persad. “We’re thrilled students are responding to the changes we’ve made for them.”

So what kinds of students should consider cluster living?

“Our goal is to offer students different living options that support their personal and academic success,” says Persad. “Any student who is looking to have an incredibly fun and engaging year in residence would be a good fit for our clusters.”

Kaitlyn Zajdlik spent the first year of her Bachelor of Science degree in a cluster last year, and enjoyed the experience so much that she’s returning as a residence assistant in the fall. She highly recommends trying out a cluster.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to be linked with people that have similar interests, backgrounds and study habits,” said Zajdlik. “I found that living in a cluster was the ultimate support group. It was about sharing stories, interests, hobbies, whatever, and celebrating them. Making it easier. Raising you up!”

To learn more about Dalhousie’s Academic and Themed Clusters, visit dal.ca/livelearn


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