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Living and learning together

By Jan Gillis (‘07)

Three different students, three different backgrounds, three different academic paths, three different career goals and one huge commonality — The Huber Residential Learning Community, a year-long opportunity for first-year students to live and learn with like-minded students interested in any of JMU's pre-professional health programs.

Clayton Poffenberger ('15), Michael Rudloff ('15) and Andy Russo ('15) chose HRLC as the beginning of their Madison Experience. Poffenberger, the community's first ever pre-vet student has set his sights on being a large animal vet while Rudloff is a pre-med student and Russo is majoring in athletic training.

Among the many benefits HRLC offers is providing ways for students to integrate their coursework with practical experience working with agencies and programs on campus and in the local community.

Michael Rudloff ('15)

Michael Rudloff ('15)

Rudloff's volunteer work has been with the Valley AIDS Network. "This has been an eye-opening experience. I've come to realize the complex financial and governmental processes involved in HIV/AIDS programs. It makes you realize the true complexity of this health issue as you see the effects of individual decisions, financial concerns and economic realities all wrapped up together."

Andy Russo

Andy Russo ('15)

For Russo volunteer opportunity goes to the heart of his career choice. "I'm in the health industry to help people, so being able to volunteer is a big reward." He has worked with Overcoming Barriers, which gives individuals with disabilities the tools to live healthy, active lifestyles. "For part of the semester, I would go to the YMCA and play with children with disabilities — throwing, catching, dribbling, bouncing balls. It was really high energy and fun! Now I volunteer for another program working with children with disabilities, called Just Dance. On Thursdays I'm doing the Chicken Dance, Pokey, Cha-Cha — lots of dance!"

Being a mentor has offered Russo the chance to make a difference. "[Seven-year-old] Luca came into the program, shy and quiet. Then, I could see him adjust to people around him. He just grew as a person in the space of eight short weeks. He became more involved, more talkative and more outgoing. Being able to see that and know that I helped with that — I can't even explain it!"

Clayton Poffenberger ('15)

Clayton Poffenberger ('15)

Following through on his interest to work with horses, Poffenberger volunteers with Ride With Pride, an organization that provides a therapeutic riding clinic for the physically handicapped or those with learning disabilities and emotional challenges. "I muck stalls, do barn chores, ride the therapeutic horses to keep them in good condition, de-sensitize the horses by throwing balls at them and prepare them for the games the kids will play on the horses," he says.

The highpoint of his volunteer experience? "One mom told me her autistic son never showed emotion, never demonstrated that he cared, never said he loved her. Then he began working with a horse. A real relationship built between him and the horse. That in turn led to a moment she'd been waiting for — her son being able to tell her he loved her," says Poffenberger.

All three agree that the community delivers on its promise to provide a living-learning environment. "You build relationships with professors who will offer you guidance as you progress in your field," says Poffenberger.

The opportunity to interact with people in the same field is a huge benefit. Rudloff, who has joined the American Medical Students Association, says, "You get to know sophomores and juniors who are ahead of you in the program and offer good advice."

Living and studying with people with the same interests allows students to build relationships with professors and classmates. "You have professors and students around to bounce ideas off of, to talk about your intended fields of study and how you're doing in classes," says Russo, who is a also a member of the Madison Athletic Training Student Association.

HRLC crafts a learning experience that builds the future leaders of the rapidly evolving and expanding fields of health and human services. And, students agree on its effectiveness. As Poffenberger says, "You're with a comfortable core group of people to take classes with. You learn a lot."