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In order to improve student satisfaction and participation, Director of Four-Year Houses and Residential Programs Ryan Keytack is working on providing college houses with the "tools to be even more successful."

Credit: Idil Demirdag

Residential programs advertise intellectual conversation, engaging events and, most importantly, a home. But for some, these promises fall short.

College freshman Eva Zhang is one of only three people who applied for her residential program. Like some Penn students, Zhang found that her residential program seemed more engaging on paper than it is in practice.

“It did not live up to my expectations,” Zhang said. “Reading the description, I thought there would be a lot more activities, a lot more sharing.”

Despite these issues, Zhang admits she has been “satisfied” with her program.

“I still think it’s a great experience,” she added. “I am really close with the other two [girls].”

Zhang emphasized that residential programs can be especially helpful within the first few months of freshmen year, a time that can be difficult and isolating.

“Content wise, I think it comes down to, [for] me personally, having meaningful conversations, and residential programs in the first few months can provide that,” she said.

College freshman Yasmina Ghadban is in the same residential program as Zhang and finds that many times they are used solely to get specific housing.

“They are really great if they are centered well, but what happens all the time is that people just apply to guarantee a spot,” Ghadban said. “They sometimes have no interest in the residential program itself.”

Given these concerns, some wonder what the future of residential programs looks like.

Director of Four-Year Houses and Residential Programs Ryan Keytack detailed the specific goals that Penn has for its college houses and programs. These include streamlining administrative policies, reinforcing the academic mission of college houses and enhancing the residential student’s learning experience.

“We would love to get all the programs to the point that they offer serious fun. The serious is the content, and the fun is the community,” Keytack said.

Residential programs are key to Penn’s mission and are organized at the college house level, he explained. Each house decides how much money it wants to allocate to specific house events. There is no specific residential program budget.

Keytack is working to provide a consistent assessment plan in order to gauge student satisfaction and participation. He made clear that residential programs are here to stay.

“That is not about eliminating residential programs, it is about giving them the tools to be even more successful,” he said.

When asked about students using these programs solely to get specific housing, Keytack said, “I think that will always be the case. If someone is excited about being in a house, I think that is fantastic.”

Keytack said that any changes to the programs’ content will depend on house administrators and staff. For example, the New College House has created “collectives” — smaller communities available to the entire house — that have helped to bring residents together.

In terms of existing programs, Keytack has seen improvement in participation and interest.

“What I have seen over time and what I am getting from the houses is that we are getting more serious applicants.” Keytack said.