And it’s good for your GPA

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Friday, August 18, 2017
four roommates hanging out
From left to right, Elizabeth Macy, Alison Shoppa, Ellie Ferency, and Kasey McMurrin get to know one another in their Mayflower Hall living quarters. At residence halls across the University of Iowa campus, roommates are meeting for the first time. Although many communicated via social media before they arrived, the first face-to-face meeting can still be nerve-wracking. Photo by Matt Jansen.

Elizabeth sent the first text. Not long after, she and her Mayflower Residence Hall roommate, Alison, were chatting about all sorts of things.

Who would get the bed next to the wall? (Elizabeth)
Would they share kitchen utensils? (Yes)
What color bed linens would they bring? (Elizabeth: gold and white; Alison: teal, purple, and gray)

Alison Shoppa, a first-year student from Muscatine, Iowa, wasn’t too worried about their bedding matching.

“I have gray sheets, so it shouldn’t be that bad,” agrees Elizabeth Macy, a first-year student from River Forest, Illinois.

As students arrive on the University of Iowa campus for the start of a new academic year, many are meeting their roommates for the first time. After initial greetings surrounded by bulging suitcases and storage bins, roommates begin to slowly piece together the pre-college histories of their new friends (How many siblings? What kind of pets? Netflix or Hulu?) and carefully construct a new life together—one without parental supervision, childhood friends, or familiar routines.

Video by Matt Jansen.

It can be a rocky process, learning to live with a stranger. But for Elizabeth and Alison, the introduction went smoothly. Elizabeth arrived first with her parents, Becky and Larry; Alison got to campus a few hours later, mom Heather and little sister Natalie in tow.

As Alison sails into the third-floor room, hugging a small moving box to her chest, she smiles and calls out to Elizabeth, “I’d shake your hand but I can’t.” Then comes the slightly awkward moment after Alison has set down her load; both young women stand across the room from each other, neither sure what to do next. Then the two come together for a quick hug.

Laughter ensues, tensions dissipate, and the young women and their families get acquainted. There’s a lot of handshaking and more laughter as everyone compares notes about preparations, move-in, and the big changes ahead.

Close campus friendships, including those between roommates, are important to academic success and graduation, says UI College of Education professor Nicholas A. Bowman.

In a survey of 2,739 first-year students at 28 selective colleges and universities, Bowman and research colleague Ryan H. Bronkema of the University of West Georgia found that students with at least one close friend on campus had higher college GPAs than students who reported zero campus friends. Students with close campus friends also were more likely to graduate within six years.

The researchers also found that students who live in residence halls during their first year at college are more likely to have at least one friend by their second year.

“Don’t get her started about not having her daughter at home anymore,” Larry Macy says of his wife, Becky. “She’ll start crying on us.”

“You can think of me as your Iowa mom,” Heather Shoppa says to Elizabeth. “If you need something, anything at all, you just let me know.”

As their parents chat, Elizabeth and Alison check out the kitchenette that separates their room from that of Kasey McMurrin, a first-year student from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Ellie Ferency, a first-year student from Huntley, Illinois. When all four roomies converge in Kasey and Ellie’s room, the quad is finally all together, and there’s a lot of excited chitchat.

“Oh my gosh, welcome!” “It’s so nice to meet you!” “Where did you say you were from?”

Kasey, who arrived on campus Sunday as part of the Iowa Edge program for select minority and first-generation college students, already has her bed made and a couch and lamp set up in one corner of the room. She and Ellie met through a Facebook page for members of the Class of 2021 and decided to become roommates because, as Kasey explains, “We just started talking about our lives right away, without wasting time on basic questions.”

Still, just minutes before Kasey met Ellie for the first time, she admitted to feeling nervous. Like Elizabeth and Alison, she and Ellie spent a good chunk of the summer sharing texts and Snapchats—and even a Pinterest board to “pin” decoration ideas for their dorm room. But they never spoke on the phone or met in person.

“I’m not sure if we’ll be good friends or not,” says Kasey. “I hope so, but we’ll just have to see wherever this takes us.”

Not even an hour after Ellie moved in, she and Kasey have already hung a large square of exotic leaf-print fabric above the couch and added a strand of tiny white flower lights to the wall above their beds. The room is coming together, and the young women are proud of their efforts.

“Pretty much everything in the room we shared photos of in advance,” says Ellie. “Our color scheme is white, pink, and green. We planned everything out.”

Elizabeth and Alison didn’t coordinate their décor to the same degree, but before arriving on campus they had already concluded that they would probably hit it off. They both like to stay up late, they both have cute dogs, they both like teaching swimming, and they both hate coffee. (They prefer hot chocolate and chai tea.)

“Knowing that we have these things in common is reassuring,” says Alison. “I definitely feel like I’ve been partnered with someone similar.”

“She seems pretty laid back,” Elizabeth says of her new roommate. “Yeah, I think we’ll get along.”

two women talking in residence hall room
Roommates Kasey McMurrin, left, a first-year student from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Ellie Ferency, a first-year student from Huntley, Illinois, chat in their Mayflower Residence Hall room, where they will live during the 2017–18 academic year. Photo by Justin Torner.