Inside the life of a faculty fellow

| Staff Writer

The hallways of WayCrow residential college are decorated by quirky name tags imbued with an RA’s genuine effort. A variety of music and other sounds emanate from within the modern doubles. However, one door on the hallway that is notably different from the rest. Instead of a quirky name tag, there is a whiteboard with undergraduate pleas for the latest chemistry quiz to be curved. This is the door of William Tolman, Vice Dean of Research and Entrepreneurship, and Bonnie Gruen, Senior Science Editor in the chemistry department.

Faculty fellow William Tolman and chemistry department senior science editor Bonnie Gruen stand in the kitchen of their Nemerov apartment. (Photo by Brian Cui/Student Life)

From the moment I got my housing assignment and began researching my residential college, I was fascinated by the idea of faculty fellows, professors who live within a residential college for a term of three to four years. It seems crazy that within the chaos of an undergraduate dorm building, there are professionals creating a home. After talking with Tolman and Gruen, I found that the incongruency is part of what makes the position enticing. They are able to be fully immersed in campus life and become a bigger part of the community while still leading lives otherwise similar to their peers.

The role of a faculty fellow requires taking on extra responsibilities to create the residential community. This is a coveted position with a long wait list of faculty, and the selection process prioritizes those with more teaching experience and established careers. Even though they live in a dorm building, each faculty fellow has a unique home layout that they can renovate before moving in. Renovations can be minimal, such as changing the paint color, or more extreme. For example, Tolman and Gruen took out an entire bedroom from the apartment to extend their living room, making it a spacious 2-bed-2-bath home within Nemerov. They have huge windows facing out towards Shepley and a tiled patio on which they can grill. They were sure to point out their apartment’s artistic nods to their time spent working at the University of Minnesota, like a portrait of Prince and a wood carving of the state. The most important piece of artwork, according to the couple, is the photo wall of their family near the entrance. While walking through the space, I was struck by how much it felt like a home. Stepping across the threshold was like a transition from college into stable adulthood.

(Photo by Brian Cui/Student Life)

SL: Why did you decide to initially be a faculty fellow?

Tolman: I spent 27 years at the University of Minnesota, where there really isn’t an opportunity to interact with students in a residential college life like this, and it was something that I’ve always wanted to do my whole career. When I found out about this, I just jumped at it and said, ‘This would be a really cool thing to do, to live with students and really get to know them and interact in a different way.’ So that’s what led me to argue for this.

Gruen: And I would add that moving here, not really having a community of friends or a history here, provided this really nice community for us with the other faculty fellows and students. It has been a really nice opportunity for us to be here.

SL: How do you maintain a work-life balance?

T: My work is always there. No matter where I am, the work is there. I love that my commute is a walk across campus. It’s wonderful to have that. And I don’t mind. For instance, we have an exam in my class that I’m teaching on Monday and some of the students in Nemerov are in the class. They’re going to be running a study session on Sunday and they invited me to come, so I’ll walk down the hall, go into the study room and sit with the students and work with them. I don’t mind, I love that balance.

G: I would say he’s good at dividing. Working during normal hours and stopping in the evening and having dinner, hanging out.

SL: What do you see as your role on campus?

Tn: The way that we phrase it is that we are the fun uncle and aunt. We’re here to support [the students]. We also provide opportunities to get together and socialize. Taking people to concerts and going to shows, things that take people out of the University.

SL: What resources do students not take advantage of enough that are available within the residential college?

T: Well, I would say that I think not enough students take advantage of the opportunities we provide to them to do cultural events. We recently took a group of students to see the Outwin exhibit at the Kemper Art Museum and we were thrilled to get 10 students out of 300 in our community.

G: What we’ve learned over the three years of doing this is that we’re happy to get however many students come, even if it’s just a few. We feel like we’re reaching the students that need that kind of interaction, or want it. Otherwise, there’s a lot of students who are busy and can’t be bothered. We are here for the ones that need it.

(Photo by Brian Cui/Student Life)

SL: What resources on campus do you use?

G: We used to go to the gym, but with COVID, it was closed and now we have our Peloton. I did go to the gym though for a while. I did a series of personal training with a senior who helped me a couple times a week a couple years ago. That was great. We still go to cafes like Whispers or Lopata. But for dinners, we mostly eat in.

SL: How does living on a college campus impact your social life in comparison to your contemporaries?

T: I just think it makes it so much more fun. For me as a professor, I constantly get greeted walking across campus by students.

G: It’s just as easy to get together with people who don’t live on campus. I don’t think it impacts that relationship with others. We do get comments from other people who are like, ”you’re doing what?’ They think we are crazy.

T: They think it’s all these parties and noise.

G: I would say it’s very soundproof. You know, we talk about how we are now empty nesters but now we have a very full nest since it’s WayCrow.

SL: What is it like having Hank, one of the cats on campus, and how do you think Hank affects the community?

T: Well, he really is an ambassador. He draws a lot of attention. Students love him. A lot of students talk to us about how they miss their own pets and being able to interact with Hank makes them feel better.

G: We’ve had students come around midterms and final times and ask if they can bring Hank to their room because they just need some time with him.

T: We cannot let him do that but we let him roam. He does roam outside and that’s where a lot of students interact with him.

Correction: We have updated the headline to clarify that Bonnie Gruen is not a faculty fellow.

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