If you’ve been given directions by an 8-year-old girl on campus, or have stopped to have a conversation with her in the cafeteria, she’s probably Stella Siler.
And just like many OU freshmen, Stella calls Walker Tower home.
Stella lives in the dorms with her parents Jessi and Cameron Siler, her 4-year-old little brother Sam, and their pet turtle Skippy as part of the faculty in residence program at OU. Cameron Siler is an assistant professor of biology at OU and assistant curator of herpetology at the Sam Noble Museum, and Jessi Siler is a physician assistant in the OU Trauma ICU.
According to Diane Brittingham, OU associate director of Housing and Food services and director of Residence Life, the faculty in residence program began in 1997, and was modeled after former OU President David Boren’s time at Yale.
“The first families lived in Adams and the idea was to create a multi-generational community, so not only were they faculty in different areas so that students were exposed to their academic interests or their primary academic focus, it’s also a family living in the halls,” Brittingham said.
In 23 years the faculty in residence program has housed almost 100 families, one in every residential tower, a family in Cate, Krattli and a few in Cross. According to the OU Housing and Food website, the faculty in residence Program “enables students to develop ‘out of the classroom’ relationships and experiences with professors.”
In the past, families have sent in a letter of interest to the president’s office to apply for the program, which is a three year commitment with a potential fourth year, Brittingham said.
The faculty selected live in special apartments made for families on the first floor of each tower.
There are three different families currently participating in the faculty in residence program in the tower dorms, all with different experiences.
The Siler Family
The Siler family has lived in the Walker Tower for four years. When they first moved in their youngest, Sam, was just 6 weeks old and Stella was only 4 years old.
Jessi Siler and Cameron Siler met in college where Jessi Siler was a resident advisor for four years.
“We met at the University of Texas at Austin, which we always get a kick out of cause we ended up at the archrivals of the Longhorns,” Cameron said. “ (Jessi) is from (Plano, Texas) so we still go down there all the time but we've fallen in love with OU as well.”
Cameron said they didn’t know about the faculty in residence program when they first arrived at OU, but put in a letter of interest as soon as they learned about it. At the time they sent in the interest letter, Jessi was pregnant with Sam.
“We've really enjoyed it. The getting to interact with students and have variety of programs and getting to introduce the kids to these kinds of activities has been really awesome,” Cameron said.
After four years of living in the dorms, the Silers are moving out at the end of the spring semester.
“It's going to be an adjustment. Quieter for sure, and for (the kids) especially, I think it's going to take some time to get used to not having so much going on all the time,” Siler said. “I think at any point you step out in the lobby and there's people around at anytime of night, and so having just quiet at night is going to be different.”
The program has helped the Siler kids interact with others and learn about new things, Jessi said.
“It's helped both of them kind of open up and be more comfortable,” Jessi said. “Now when we go to the caf, (Stella), a lot of times will just go to a student table by herself and strike up a conversation. I think that's a really good life skill to have, to have no fear and confidence in yourself.”
Jessi said living on campus in the dorms has also been a good way to have conversations with their kids they might not otherwise have about multiple topics including personal space, equality and tolerance.
“We always joke we're going to have a dorm desensitization program for (the kids) to go through because no kids get to randomly look outside and there's a blow-up slide to play on or a band playing,” Jessi said.
The Urick Family
As the Silers are leaving their role as faculty in residence in Walker Tower the Couch Tower family is just starting.
Angela Urick, assistant professor in the Rainbolt College of Education, and her fifth grade son, Evan Urick began living as the Faculty in Residence of Couch Tower with their Pomeranian, Jack, less than a year ago.
Angela applied for the faculty in residence program around three years ago after hearing about the program from a friend.
“I had a another faculty friend who suggested (the faculty in residence program) and thought I might be interested in it because I used to be a high school teacher, so I’m always interested in the transition between high school and college,” Angela said.
Angela said that she likes the energy living in Couch tower.
“I also like interacting with undergrads because most of my department is graduate students, so getting to see undergrads especially the college freshmen … and talking to them about their classes and experiences here has been a good experience.” Angela said.
Angela said her son Evan was most excited about the meal plan and cafeteria at first.
Evan even had his birthday party in the Couch Tower lobby. They set up an Xbox and his friends played ping pong.
“It’s like a normal house, but (with) free food,” Evan said.
Angela said she is very impressed by how nice the housing office is.
“While I’m getting a free place to live, and I know there’s service in return for that, (housing is) really respectful about wanting input or trying to make me happy and trying to respect the fact that it is my home even if it’s temporary,” Angela said,
The Camara Family
Catherine John-Camara, a professor in the English Department and her husband, Aboubacar Camara, who works as a staff member for Sarkey’s Athletic Center and as an adjunct instructor in the Music Department, have been the faculty in residence of Adams Tower beginning in 2017 with their term ending in 2020.
“It has been a good experience in certain ways,” John-Camara said. “It’s different than living away from campus, I was not somebody who had lived very close to campus before, so being in the midst of campus you feel like work and school never end.”
John-Camara said she had friends who had done the program before her. When she and her husband were invited by her friend, Lupe Davidson, associate professor and chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, to put on a drumming program, they became interested in being a part of the program.
“That was the first time we had come and participated in a program,” said John-Camara, “I knew people who had done it before, but it was when I knew people who were friends that did it that I thought ‘That’s sort of an interesting thing,’ so after we did a program with (Davidson) and had a sense of how much the students appreciated it, we decided to apply.”
Moving to campus from Oklahoma City, John-Camara said some benefits include being just a five minute walk from her office, and being able to do programs and participate in a lot of events on campus. She said the proximity makes her feel more immersed in campus life and more connected.
“It has been a nice experience in doing different programs with students and having the opportunity to work more closely with the RAs and to get a sense of what student life is like for students of this generation,” said John-Camara.
According to the OU Housing and Food website, the families host programs for residents throughout the year including guest lectures, special meals and other events, while also providing a further sense of home-life qualities for residents.
Each family has hosted a variety of programs over the years. John-Camara said the programs feel like an extension of her teaching.
The Camaras have done many programs including a forum for med students, a knitting workshop and a black film festival. The Camaras also took students to see the premiere of “Black Panther” and had a discussion about it a month later specifically between African and African-American students.
Each family said they’ve had trouble knowing what types of events to host and how to publicize them in the age of social media.
“I’m still learning how students communicate and how to get the word out about different events and what students like to do,” Angela Urick said.
The Uricks have hosted a back to school event with undergraduate resources, self-defense training and a healthy-relationship event with the Resident Student Association for Valentine’s Day.
“Free food is a really good one, we really try to combine some sort of meaningful education event, free food and then a fun activity and name it something catchy, so that seems to be the magical combination,” Angela Urick said.
The Silers have done multiple programs as well, including women’s self-defense classes, a bugs and bones program and French toast nights.
“I think that (the faculty in residence families) can have some conversations that sometimes are easier when you’re handing somebody a plate of waffles and saying ‘how’s your day going?’” Brittingham said.
Brittingham said the faculty in residence's work in engaging students is important.
“I know through my work that there are students who sometimes people don’t talk to, and so I love that the faculty in residence support us in that," Brittingham said. "I think they want to be a part of this program because they do want to step out of the classroom and interact with students in a different way.”