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UC Berkeley Press Release

New faculty-in-residence program launched

– Associate Professor George Chang's eyes are twinkling as he lets you in on a little secret he's learned in his 35-plus years teaching at the University of California, Berkeley: "Being around students is the closest thing there is to a fountain of youth."

Good thing, since he has volunteered to live in the midst of several hundred students as the first professor participating in a new Faculty Residence pilot program.

He and his wife, Abby Jang, moved into a three-bedroom suite on the ground floor of Towle Hall during the spring semester and so far, it's going great. Chang says he's eating most meals at the dining hall, meeting students at the communal tables there, and running into them in the hallways, laundry room, workout room and study rooms. He keeps an office in the academic center, holds regular office hours and teaches a tai-chi class on Sundays for his residence hall neighbors.

Chang will live in the residence hall for two years, with free room and board in exchange for eight hours of service a week, according to Troy Gilbert, acting director of academic programs in the Office of Student Development.

The model is different from faculty-in-residence programs at some other schools, Gilbert said. At UC Berkeley, the faculty member won't be expected to take care of a student crisis, per se - there are resident assistants and others available to handle the day-to-day issues that crop up in a residence hall.

"It's more of an academic model," Gilbert said. "Ninety-eight percent of first-year students live in residential communities. Outside of seminars, it's hard for them to get to know the faculty. Our hope is that this program will give them the chance."

It's certainly giving Chang a chance to get to know students. Before, he said, he mostly got to know students who took his classes.

"I've had a filtered look at the freshman experience," he said. "I appreciate the full diversity of students more."

Chang, a food microbiologist at UC Berkeley since 1970, has long been known for his warm manner, approachability and deep interest in students. He's often asked to speak at Cal Student Orientation programs, and teaches a popular freshman seminar called "The Freshman Experience." In the seminar, students pick discussion topics, interview fellow students and share their "research" findings in the class on topics ranging from dating and homework to gaining the Freshman 15 and trying to avoid parking tickets.

Living in the residence halls wasn't a tough decision, Chang said, noting that he has always lived in a college community. The son of a professor, he grew up a few blocks from campus in New Mexico, then lived in the residence halls at Princeton University while getting an undergraduate degree in chemistry before coming to Berkeley and living at the International House as a student here in the early 1960s. He earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1967.

This kind of background is exactly what the Office of Student Development envisioned for the program. A typical background might include being a resident tutor or proctor in graduate school, or just someone who intensely enjoys interacting with undergraduate students.

Chang moved into a Berkeley apartment in 1964 as a graduate student, and has been in one northside Berkeley apartment or another ever since. Now that he's in the residence halls he particularly likes getting to know the students -- just listening to them, mostly -- and helping out where he can.

"It's a privilege to be part of this process," Chang said. "And someday these students will be helping others with their process. That's close to immortality."

Along the way, he's getting a good look at how students spend their time (mostly in "one form or another of courtship," he says. "It's quite an eye-opener.") and the hours they keep.

"It's surprising how nocturnal students are," Chang said. "It's really quiet in the very early morning, but it's amazing how the place comes alive at night. It's almost like a nature show."

But one of the big benefits -- and maybe this is what keeps him so youthful -- is having a perpetually new audience.

"I love to tell stories," Chang confesses, noting that his wife has heard most of them again and again. "These students haven't heard all my stories!" he says with a grin.

"I'm having so much fun, I could do this forever."