Journey Scholars occupy newly renovated Solberg Hall

Journey Scholars occupy newly renovated Solberg Hall
First-year Journey Scholars gather for a photo at their meeting in the Froiland Science Complex on Sept. 13. Photo by Jack Erickson. 

After receiving renovations throughout the 2022-2023 academic year, Solberg Hall welcomed new residents and a new program this fall: a living-learning community floor dedicated to first-year Journey Scholars recipients.

Student Affairs and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have integrated the program into the hall. The Journey Scholars program, a scholarship for domestic students of color, helps bring recipients together to build their leadership skills.

Dashawn Sykes, a first-year Journey Scholar recipient, feels blessed to have the opportunity to live with the community of other students from all backgrounds.

“I’m surrounded by many peers with similar and different backgrounds,” Sykes said. “It’s fun to learn about others. I also feel like I will always have a community of people behind me.”

Willette Capers, the assistant vice provost of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, founded the program in 2019 with 11 students. As of fall 2023, 48 students have received the scholarship.

Currently, 60 spaces are reserved for the program. Tyra Hawkins, the assistant director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said she hopes to continue to see the number of students in the program expand in coming years.

The program partially involves bringing Journey Scholars to campus a couple of days early for orientation. As well as living on the same floor in Solberg Hall, freshmen are assigned one of two FYS classes: Daniel Gerling’s “WTF, English?” or Michael Mullin’s “From Garden to Desert?”

Hawkins hopes the community will not only foster friendships but be a place the students will learn to lean on each other.

Residence Life and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion considered the two newly renovated residence halls, Solberg and Bergsaker, for the program, but Hawkins said they eventually decided on Solberg.

Aaron Sanchez, a sophomore and Journey Scholars recipient, is a viking adviser for the male wing of the floor. Sanchez initially applied to be a VA because he wanted to be a role model for other students.

“I remember last year I was scared because I had to move in early,” Sanchez said. “It turns out it was actually really fun because we spent time around each other and it was like a sense of community.”

As a VA, Sanchez plans different events each month for his floor of Journey Scholars to encourage floormates to spend time together, build community and express their diversity. His goal is to make everyone feel included and welcome.

Sanchez said he can already see the community coming together outside of the events he has planned for the floor. Students gather in the lounge area to do homework, play games or cook traditional meals together.

Ashirvad Sharma, a freshman Journey Scholar recipient, recalls being nervous initially, but he said he now feels at home with his floormates.

“We are like a big family,” Sharma said. “We are always hanging out together. I could have never asked for more.”

Since only 48 scholars currently occupy the space, the remaining 12 spots were opened to other students not a part of the program.

Students housed in the newly-renovated Solberg Hall now have access to an elevator in addition to adjustable air conditioning and heating systems in each room. The hall has also been refloored, repainted and refurnished.

Each floor is now also equipped with a lounge area and study rooms. The first floor has a fully functioning kitchen unit and laundry room with accessible washers and dryers that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As the fall semester gets underway, Sykes feels like he can learn from the other Journey Scholars: his friends.

“In my opinion, surrounding yourself with successful people is the best way to succeed. You must pick up on their actions and use them yourself to grow,” Sykes said.