The residence hall well known by alumni for its all-male inhabitants and thus, a certain aroma, is in the midst of little changes that are cumulating into big morale shift. Pritchard Hall, built in 1967, is home to more than 1,000 students, and now more than ever, it feels like just that: home.

“Common area spaces have been re-conceptualized to inspire creativity, invite collaborative learning, and give students a sense of home away from home,” said Frank Shushok, senior associate vice president for student affairs and associate professor of higher education.

The transformation began in 2013 and 2014, starting with bathrooms, painting, and carpeting.

“At the most practical level, we’ve made small moves like carpeting the hallways, replacing institutional-white cinder block walls with warm colors, and adding comfortable furniture,” said Shushok. “And it’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, student rooms were numbered using a stencil and black spray paint. We were sending students the wrong message.”

Most recently, an outside area affectionately known as the “Pritchard Pit” by many alumni was transformed into the “Pritchard Creative Courtyard.” What was once the landing zone for furniture and trash out of Pritchard residents’ windows was fully gutted and replaced with landscaping, seating areas, and poles to hang hammocks.

Frank Shushok stands in Pritchard courtyard, with seating and hammock poles behind him.
Frank Shushok, senior associate vice president for student affairs, stands in the newly transformed Pritchard Courtyard.

Both men and women are now housed in Pritchard Hall, and, in addition, offices for faculty and staff are located in renovated spaces in the residence hall.

Three living-learning communities are also housed in Pritchard Hall — Innovate, SERVE, and Thrive.

Innovate is designed for students interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Innovate’s vision is “to inspire students to redefine the possible and drive change.” A prior unused exercise room in Pritchard was transformed into a lounge specifically designed to foster collaborative learning spaces for Innovate students.

Every few weeks, Innovate hosts a successful entrepreneur for its Entrepreneur-in-Residence program. These entrepreneurs — some of whom are alumni — live in an apartment in Pritchard Hall while visiting Blacksburg, and they spend their visits meeting with Innovate students one-on-one, networking with Virginia Tech’s future entrepreneurs, and dialoguing with students. Most recently, a white board was added to the Innovate Lounge to display signatures of all visiting entrepreneurs. 

Regina Dugan sits at a table with Innovate students in a lounge in Pritchard Hall.
Regina Dugan, Facebook executive and Virginia Tech alumna, shared her experiences with students in the Innovate living-learning community during her visit in August.
Regina Dugan signs the whiteboard with other entrepreneur signatures, as Innovate students look on.
Dugan signs a whiteboard in the Innovate lounge. This whiteboard showcases the autographs of entrepreneurs who visit the Innovate living-learning community.

SERVE is a signature program out of VT Engage focused on creating an environment for first-year students that fosters both personal and civic growth. The benefits of living in Pritchard among other students focused on serving the community bonds students and bolsters their understanding of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

The newest addition to the living-learning community in Pritchard Hall, Thrive, invites students to take a deep dive into their strengths to discover what lifelong wellbeing looks like and how student can set themselves up for success following graduation. Thrive students, who come from a variety of academic disciplines, utilize Pritchard’s academic resource center and the Living-Learning Center to grow their support network, problem solve, and learn about additional opportunities available at Virginia Tech.

By incorporating these three living-learning communities into the Pritchard Hall DNA, the residence hall culture is one of scholarship, community, and a desire to learn both in and outside the classroom.

“When Pritchard was built, the prevailing idea was to construct ‘dorms’ that were efficient, simple, and large enough to accommodate the huge enrollment growth of that time,” said Shushok. “Pritchard back then was mostly viewed as a place for students to sleep. Today, we see places like Pritchard as ‘living-learning laboratories’ that facilitate the highest aims of Virginia Tech. Of course, this shift in philosophy changes everything about the way we think about the spaces we create.”

Written by Holly Paulette.    

Share this story