by Libby Giesbrecht
In June 2017, a devastating fire destroyed one of the residence facilities on the Providence campus. But while the loss of Bergen Hall, which was being renovated, provided immediate challenges, Community Life Coordinator Darcy Friesen says it also “opened up a new door to the future.” Now, more than one year after the fire, plans are in place for the construction of a to-be-named Living & Learning Centre—a new residence Friesen hopes will enhance student life for all those living at Providence.
Set to open its doors to students in fall 2019, the dormitory will include comfortable rooms and living spaces that will both allow students the space to connect with each other and provide communal areas for gathering. It’s a facility designed to incorporate every aspect of student life that Providence aims to encompass.
“It’s a building designed for intentional community,” says Friesen. “A thoughtfully designed residence building is critical in developing a fun and thriving Christ-centred learning community. Our Campus Living & Learning program is focused on ensuring students are cared for and on providing spaces and people that are critical to student living and thriving. We are extremely excited for students to enjoy the new space.”
As Friesen explains, student life at providence is about living, learning and growing in community.
“Students attend chapel together; they sing in choirs together; they eat meals together; they support Pilots sports teams together,” he says. “Being together is the underlying rhythm of the Providence experience.”
Providence places high importance on the concept of community within all aspects of life on campus, as evidenced through not only the new Living & Learning Centre, but also the Mission Statement, student groups and athletics, to name a few. But how does it all come together for students and staff on campus?
“Student life means late-night papers, part-time jobs, friendships, memories and life lessons,” says Madison Will, a social science major. “The social life at Prov is one of a kind! Providence focuses on academics while incorporating fun and memories within it. I’ve never experienced a community quite like it.”
Amanda Friesen, who just completed her second year of studies in psychology, emphasizes relationships while reflecting on her own student life experience.
“’Student life’ makes me think of the relationships between students and staff,” she says. “It’s interesting to see how overall student life changes with the interaction and connection between staff and students when we intentionally participate within the Prov community.”
Variety of classes
Of course, there would be no student life without students. Providence offers a variety of undergraduate and seminary-level study options, and recent faculty hires have further bolstered programs such as biblical studies, psychology and science. Timothy Hildebrandt points out that the variety of classes available to students helps prepare them for the lives they choose to live. A biblical studies major, he says the incorporation of faith within the classroom provides opportunities for both knowledge development and spiritual growth.
“My faith has changed because of my professors’ different viewpoints on biblical understanding,” he says. “I’ve grown in huge ways because of this.”
Adds Friesen, a Prov alumnus: “As cliché as it sounds, my time as a student was life-changing.”
Friesen initially attended Providence in pursuit of a one-year TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate, which would have allowed him to travel overseas to teach English. He ended up staying four years, completing a Bachelor of Arts, Adv., playing two seasons on the Pilots men’s soccer team, serving on student council and working as a residence assistant.
“Although the professors I had were inspiring, and the sports that I played were exhilarating, it was the community that continued to draw me back,” he explains. “Providence became my home away from home because of the memories and friendships that were made through late-night dorm discussions, meals in the cafeteria or cheering on the other Pilots teams.”
Will notes that diversity within the student population is another way she has been prepared for life after university, having been able to meet and interact with individuals from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
“Providence sets people up for the workforce by teaching them how to learn, grow and accept differences in our world,” she says. “We learn to embrace each other’s differences and see the good in everyone. You will never see eye-to-eye with everyone you meet, and Providence teaches us how to accept that. We learn how to look for God in hard times, and although it can be stressful, God will always be there for us.”
It is Christian faith that ties together all aspects of student life at Providence. Amanda Friesen, for example, has been able to become involved on campus by participating in a worship band.
“It’s been a great experience, collaborating with other musicians and worshipers, learning about worship,” she says. “Serving [in a worship band] has provided me with yet another opportunity to learn, grow and connect.”
Recruited to play soccer for the Pilots, Will hadn’t even heard of Providence before meeting Tory Walker, her future coach. She didn’t have a faith background, either, and admits she was initially somewhat intimidated by the “Christian aspect” of the school. Nevertheless, she was excited for the opportunity to learn about Christianity had has since been exploring the true meaning of faith.
“Coming to Prov was a huge change, as I had to explore outside my realm of knowledge and open up to the idea of Christianity,” she explains. “I have tried my best to embrace a Christian lifestyle and have taken full opportunity to use the resources provided by Prov to educate myself as a Christian.”
Participation on the pitch requires participation off it as well, with a focus on community outreach, says Will. Providence athletes volunteer with students at local elementary schools as a way of giving back and sharing the love of Christ in a tangible way that includes the athletic, God-given talents they’ve been given. “[We] guide [the kids] through gym activities, and get them involved in team-building and leadership,” she says.
It’s a living testament to the institution’s mission statement, which reads that Providence will help students “grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service.” Providence also seeks to transform students into leaders of character, knowledge and faith.
“I see faith incorporated into our sport every day,” Will says. “Our coaches continually invite us to grow our relationship with God, guide us through bible studies and lead us through group prayers We are constantly shown ways in which we can live Christ-like lives.”
About 150 students call the Otterburne, Manitoba campus home each year, providing a tangible application of “community” for students attending the institution. Amanda Friesen has spent the last two years living in the Turner four-plex, a residence facility for those age-21 and older. For her, the experience has been hugely positive, fun and relational.
“It’s been great to connect with people around my age and have the freedom to cook my own meals, set my own schedule,” says Friesen, a psychology major. “It also provided me with an instant family. We set up our own holiday gatherings like little hot chocolate parties on snow days.”
Thanks to the variety of cultural backgrounds that make up the Providence campus, Friesen has found that living in residence has provided her with a more personal way to connect with international students, both assisting them in adjusting to Canadian life and gaining friends who may have grown up a world away.
“Residence life is a tremendous experience for our students because it allows them to build strong connections with people who share similar interests while also getting to know people they might not regularly connect with,” observes Darcy Friesen. “Living in residence challenges students to take responsibility for themselves while also giving them exceptional opportunities to build friendships with people from all over the world.”
What Providence means
Darcy Friesen says “community,” “motivating” and “family” are three words that come to mind when he reflects on what Providence means to him. With students from all over the world coming to study, live and grow together, fond memories are constantly being made on campus. It’s easy to see why so many choose to call Providence their home.
For Will, like many other students who have attended Providence, it has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “The community, the Christian education, my soccer team, my coaches, the professors who double as friends,” she says, naming her highlights. “Providence has given me an experience that the average university student will never get to experience.” Hildebrand, too, says the best part of his time at Providence has been the life-long friends he’s made and continues to spend time with.
Though the definition of “student life” may vary from student-to-student depending on their own involvement during their time at Providence, faith and community remain the two constants in every student experience. It’s a legacy that the Living & Learning Centre will soon become a part of, continuing the role of dorm life as one part of overall Providence experience.
“[Our students have] fond memories of living in residence, working hard throughout the season alongside teammates and experiencing God in a new way in chapel,” says Darcy Friesen. “Providence makes a significant impact on a person’s journey. Whether they are here for one year or five years, students often find that they leave a piece of themselves at Providence.”
(Top to bottom: Darcy Friesen; Welcome Week 2017; Amanda Friesen; Madison Will; Timothy Hildebrandt.)