The Science Behind This First-Year Community House

Keyri Sierra works in the science lab at Lebanon Valley College

In a world where the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field is becoming increasingly intersectional, creating a space where STEM students can collaborate is essential on the modern campus. 

Lebanon Valley College has met this need by creating its first ever STEM House for freshmen students in the science and science-related fields. Fifteen students with majors ranging from psychology and physical therapy to biology and beyond live at the heart of campus in the North College house. 

A suggestion from retention consultant Charles Schroeder, the STEM house was created to help foster a sense of community that would increase engagement, boost retention, and support the academic pursuits within the group of students who live there. Dr. Liz Sterner, assistant professor of chemistry, is the house mentor and firmly believes that the STEM house will help students feel more connected to campus.

In order to live in the STEM house, incoming freshmen had to apply prior to their arrival to campus by answering the questions of what they thought they would get out of living in the STEM house and what they wanted to see as part of life in the house. The current students were chosen because they all shared a similar vision.

“A nucleus of students was identified that had a shared vision of what the STEM house could do for them and what the STEM house would be like,” Sterner said. “That was ultimately what settled it.”

Keyri Sierra ’21, a biology major with a chemistry minor, and Lisa Orlando ’21, a physical therapy major, both expressed the desire to live in a place where the people around them shared their interest in and passion for science. Having now lived in the house for six weeks, neither student regrets her choice.

“I love the STEM house,” Orlando said. “Being here has enabled us to become close friends and even a family. My experience living here so far has been a great one.”

Sierra expressed similar positive thoughts in regards to the STEM house community.

“I love living here, everyone is super nice and accepting,” Sierra said. “We act like a big nerdy family.”

The students live together—and study together. This arrangement allows for collaborative work between students of different majors and specialties, and for each to help the other in their particular academic understanding. 

“The house has helped me academically because most of the students living here have the same classes, so we are able to do homework and study together,” Orlando said. “Because of this, I am able to ask my peers for help when needed.”

Not all their time is spent studying though. The students also make time to de-stress and have fun between classes.

“We do so much together,” Sierra said. “We throw pizza parties, make liquid nitrogen ice cream, dance in the hallways, and do homework together. I wouldn’t trade the memories I’ve made here for anything.”

Dr. Sterner and the residents of the house hope to participate in community service and outreach now that they are becoming settled into their home. Dr. Sterner even hopes to put together some sort of traveling science show led by the students in the house. Looking forward, she also hopes that upper-level students will create their own STEM house to carry on these new traditions.


-- Megan Marron, Marketing & Communications Intern