Soon after he arrived at Franklin & Marshall College in 2002, former President John A. Fry sought to create what he called "third spaces" on campus -- a set of small communities where faculty and students would gather to grow and discover beyond the classroom and build a lifelong connection with the College.
In 2005, that vision came to fruition with the launch of the College Houses, which continue to be a hallmark of the F&M experience, integrating residential, intellectual and social life.
Franklin & Marshall this fall is recognizing Fry's legacy and contributions to the formation of the Houses with the "John A. Fry College House Green," a residential quadrangle bordered by the four original College Houses: Ware, Bonchek, Brooks and Weis. The final piece of the green was installed this summer: a bronze plaque and a garden with flagstones and bricks, benches and plants.
"The John A. Fry College House Green will serve as a reminder for generations to come of the strong foundation our College Houses provide for our students, from the time they arrive on campus well into their lives as alumni," F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield said. "President Fry had the foresight to see that creating small, intimate communities within the College, and combining the residential and academic experience, would help us fulfill our mission to offer students supportive and engaged learning communities befitting our commitment to academic excellence."
'A Physical Footprint'
At his inauguration on Sept. 25, 2011, Porterfield declared that from that day forward, the green would take Fry's name. A plaque would serve as a "physical footprint" of his predecessor's contributions and would read:
Through leadership characterized by vision, dedication and enthusiasm, John Fry changed the face of education at Franklin & Marshall College by introducing the College House system in the belief that every moment holds the opportunity for discovery and personal satisfaction.
Porterfield wanted to recognize F&M's 14th president for his contributions to campus, and the College House initiative was the natural project to highlight, he said.
"The College Houses are integral to promoting connections between students and faculty and to the overall Franklin & Marshall living and learning experience," Porterfield said.
Now the president of Drexel University in Philadelphia, Fry said he first contemplated the idea of re-imagining the F&M student experience in a 2002 white paper, in which he imagined "something like" a College House residential system. In 2003, the College secured a Mellon Foundation grant, and Fry appointed a committee to explore the idea. Former Dean of the College Kent Trachte chaired the committee, which included faculty, students and professional staff.
In 2005, with the endorsement of the campus community and trustees, four College Houses were established, each with their own student-led government, faculty advisers, first-year seminars, social events and identifying crests. The College Houses were renovated between 2007 and 2010 to include common areas and other amenities to promote a sense of community. New College House, off Harrisburg Avenue, became the fifth College House when it was completed in 2011.
A Sense of Community
Deborah Murray Martin, a 1972 F&M alumna and director of special events and assistant secretary to the Board of Trustees, has shepherded the John A. Fry College Green project. She called the College Houses "a triumph."
"One of John's greatest visions was to create gathering spaces on campus for students, faculty and staff to interact," Martin said. "This green is a wonderful gathering space for students to form a sense of community and an entryway for the residential component of campus."
Fry recalled how the idea of reshaping the residential experience took on a life of its own.
"It's really nice that they did this for me, and it feels really good, but my satisfaction and compensation was always seeing this get done as a community," Fry said. "We brought together a group and empowered them to really explore this idea and to travel so they could see examples and best practices.
"They visited Rice and Yale universities, [which had similar residential systems], and began to form in their own minds something that could be distinctly F&M. Right from the beginning, and even before we knew the system would be faculty-led and student-governed, we had faculty and students involved."
Fry recruited a group of veteran faculty members, including Professor of Sociology Joel Eigen and Professor of Mathematics Annalisa Crannell, as the first House dons, or faculty advisers based within the Houses.
"We knew that if the first group of dons were great scholars and teachers, right away this would be a faculty-led and -driven environment," Fry said. "After that, the process took off, and what our students and faculty formulated was their work."
A gratifying moment came in 2011, Fry said, when Porterfield as the new president gave Fry a tour of the recently completed New College House, an event Fry said was indicative of the presidents' shared commitment to building a student-centered experience.
A 'Third Space'
Eigen, the current and founding don of Ware College House, said Fry recognized that the residential experience at F&M was not all it could be, so he approved setting up small meeting spaces on campus. "These were envisioned as venues that would encourage faculty and students to continue conversations begun in a classroom, lab, or office into 'neutral ground,'" Eigen said.
Crannell, the founding don of Bonchek College House, said the College Houses have transformed the student experience at F&M.
"With the Houses, President Fry built structures that mean far more than mere bricks and concrete," Crannell said. "His legacy lives in our bonds and community."
Ware College House Adviser Emily Durocher, a sophomore, said the College Houses were one of the reasons she chose F&M.
"My College House is not just a set of dorm rooms clustered together or a group of people with similar seminars," Durocher said. "My housemates and I are a family. This is a place where I can have intellectual conversations in the seminar room, drink a cup of hot chocolate while reading a book by the fireplace or share a meal at our monthly supper series."
Senior Matt Haller, a sociology major and a former Ware College House adviser, said College Houses also offer opportunities to develop leadership skills.
"My favorite part of the College House experience has been my involvement with student government and the relationships that has fostered with my faculty don and dean," Haller said. "I know that my time at school would have been far less rewarding without that."