Hereford College Renewed with New Focus on Sustainability

November 17, 2009

November 17, 2009 — "A home away from home." "A hidden gem." "Fantastic opportunities to get to know faculty." "Fun social and service events."

These were some of the phrases that students living in the University of Virginia's Hereford Residential College used to define their community during recent focus group sessions. The feedback belied many of the myths long associated with Hereford – that it is isolated, remote and undesirable.

Given the strong show of support from residents, as well as from faculty connected to the residential college, the future of Hereford – uncertain a year ago, when plans called for the college to be relocated – has gained solid new footing.

The decision for Hereford Residential College to continue in its current location follows an in-depth study conducted earlier this year by the Office of the Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer, which oversees the residential college program.

As students deliberate their housing choices for the 2010-11 school year, Hereford Residential College represents an option for upper-class as well as first-year students. The deadline for students to apply to live in Hereford is Nov. 23. Applications are available online.

Students and faculty have been discovering some of Hereford's hidden gems and creating a new sense of purpose through a variety of activities.

Sustainability, in particular, is emerging as an element of Hereford's identity. With an abundance of natural beauty surrounding the college, students and faculty were inspired three years ago to create a vegetable garden with a propagation greenhouse on the grounds of the college.

With the garden now expanded to 5,000 square feet, the Hereford "minifarm" is being used to build community and create a hands-on learning lab emphasizing organic planting techniques. This summer, students experimented with techniques such as companion planting, even incorporating fish carcasses and coffee grounds collected from local merchants as soil nutrients.

The garden's experiment with planting lesser-known vegetables, such as napa cabbage, bok choy, lemon grass and sesame, was initiated to reflect the rich cultural diversity of the Hereford and University student community.

In other projects reflecting a commitment to sustainability, students studied waste vegetable oil as a fuel alternative in a Hereford-sponsored course last spring, and built a filtering station that produces vehicle fuels from the used fryer oil from the kitchen in Runk Dining Hall. Physics professor Keith Williams headed up the project and is continuing to find ways to put Hereford's interest in sustainability into practice in the community.

Williams is one of more than 30 University and community members who serve as faculty fellows at Hereford. The fellows do everything from teaching short courses to dining with residents.

Other course offerings have focused on local foods and the cultural and ecological background of the Observatory Hill area where Hereford is located. In December, Hereford will join with Brown College to co-sponsor a short course and a visit to the University by well-known writer/philosopher/farmer Wendell Berry.

Nancy Takahashi, who serves as the principal, or overall faculty head, of Hereford, is a practicing landscape architect and faculty member in the School of Architecture. She lives in the Vaughan House at Hereford with her husband, also an architect, and son. Another son is a fourth-year student at U.Va.

"Hereford is building strong identity and community around two defining characteristics – first, its spectacular setting, where many outdoor activities and monthly banquets are hosted, and which is proving 'fertile ground' for our sustainable initiatives," Takahashi said.

"Additionally, the rich diversity of our resident community has fostered many learning opportunities around the culture of food through film courses and ethnic meals that students take part in preparing in our home."

Hereford Residential College was founded in 1992, the second residential college (following Brown College) established by the University. The third, the International Residential College, was founded in 2001.

Residential colleges in many ways offer the student experience that Jefferson envisioned. Compared by some to the Academical Village, the residential colleges create smaller communities within the larger University where residents can come to know one another around shared interests. Students and faculty interact informally over food, film, a service project or other special events and programs.

"The opportunities for leadership and personal growth are rich and real," said Christina Morell, associate vice president for student affairs, who oversees the residential college system.