By making himself at home in Prichard Hall, a History professor has made his own place in campus history. For the past three years, Dr. Ken Millen-Penn has been the first faculty member to live in a residence hall full-time as part of a pilot program to break down barriers to learning.
This campus first began when Dr. J. Robert Baker, Director of Honors; Dan Gockley, Director of Residence Life; and Millen-Penn chatted about the need to involve professors in a more direct way in students’ campus experience.
A 25-year teaching veteran and a winner of Fairmont State University’s most prestigious faculty award, the William A. Boram Award for Teaching Excellence, Millen-Penn has his own style that connects with students.
Millen-Penn’s students find his classes to have a conversational rhythm filled with stories and student interaction. Instead of focusing on high-tech equipment, he provides opportunities for students to work in group exercises so they can bounce ideas and thoughts off of each other and continue the conversation created during that day’s lecture.
Living in Prichard Hall makes Millen-Penn even more approachable and provides additional opportunities for learning. “It helps getting to know your students in a way that you can’t in a classroom,” Millen-Penn said.
“It is a great experience living in the dorms with a faculty member such as Dr. Millen-Penn because it is a wonderful opportunity to engage in meaningful and powerful discussions about various topics,” said Prichard resident Gustavo Fernandes. “It is an extension of a classroom where a student can talk directly to a professor to discover and answer questions about projects for classes or debate on current events."
With a wall of windows that let in the mid-day light, Millen-Penn’s living space in Prichard Hall includes a bedroom, a living room and a coveted personal bathroom. The front room serves as a cozy study with comfortable couches and shelves cluttered with biographies and history books. Millen-Penn’s style and personality are visible everywhere.
Above all else, two things stand out the most when visiting Millen-Penn. First, his mission is clear. He lives for the students, and they are welcome to stop by at any time for advice, to get help with course material or just to chat. He has a chair near the front door for visitors and he never turns anyone away. Second, Millen-Penn has a soft side–his brown and black striped cat Raja. Through an open window, Raja comes and goes as he pleases, and students are always ready to give him a scratch on the head or a belly rub.
“It was an adjustment at first, living with 18 and 19 year olds and people being up at two in the morning,” Millen-Penn said.
His willingness to participate in the pilot program stemmed from his belief that giving 100 percent is vitally important to the work that professors do. “Growing up during historical events such as the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the Nixon Watergate scandal led me to teach history, and I do my best to do it with passion and enthusiasm,” said Millen-Penn.
Now in his third year in Prichard Hall, Millen-Penn is optimistic about the future of the program. ”Each year offers different experiences, and this is the first year that I am living with all Honors and international students,” he said. “These students have given our residence hall a first rate culture and greater sense of academic purpose. I also have noticed the cross-cultural communication between the international and Honors students and believe the interaction will improve the overall culture of Prichard Hall.”