In Penn’s Stouffer College House, Students Get a Touch of Home
This is the first in a series of articles about families living in the University of Pennsylvania’s College House system.
Stouffer College House at the University of Pennsylvania is a close-knit residential community that includes families with children.
One of those families living in Stouffer belongs to Amanda Atkinson, the house dean, who has lived in Mayer Hall for almost two years with her husband, Noah; their three sons, 3-year-old twins Arlo and Gus and 6-month-old Harvey; and two cats and a dog.
Atkinson says living at Stouffer gives the faculty residents an opportunity to engage with students on a personal level. Atkinson has worked to create a welcoming environment through a series of fellowship-centered activities, by holding “Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men” viewing parties, once the little ones have gone off to bed, along with Tea & Treats, which she hosts every other Monday.
Atkinson says living among families in the College Houses gives the students a glimpse into something bigger. This year, Stouffer hosted dinner discussions, during which senior staff talked with students about what it is like to be working parents having to balance work and family -- a reminder for students that there’s more to life than academics.
“Stouffer is known for its tight-knit community so I shouldn’t be surprised by their enthusiasm for family life,” Atkinson says. “Plus, sometimes they just need to read a childhood favorite to a kid or play with pool noodle light sabers to take a break from all the hard work.”
Another interactive event designed to strengthen family-like ties happens on Thursdays. Each week, Annette Reed, a faculty member in Religious Studies and the house fellow at Stouffer, along with her husband, Benjamin Fleming, and 4-year-old Alexander, also known as “KunKun,” host Thursday Snacks with KunKun, Benjy and Annette. They’ve lived in Stouffer since 2011 and began the weekly event so that students could say hello, relax, get a treat and play with their two cats, Shlomo and Rohini.
Depending on the time of the semester, between five and 25 students gather in their apartment, which is filled with toys, books and art, to enjoy ice cream.
“The semester gets pretty hectic, and I hope there’s something comforting in knowing that we’ll always be there with an open door and lots of ice cream if anyone wants to stop by,” Reed says.
As a mom, Reed sees Stouffer as a vibrant place to raise a curious and sometimes rambunctious little boy who always wants to explore new ideas and challenges. She says KunKun learns so much from his interactions with Penn students, and he’s confident and highly articulate when speaking with adults. Reed says, the one downside to it all is that he’s become a bit of a night owl.
“He loves nothing more than staying up late with Stouffer residents to build Legos or pretend to be hobbits, jedi or ninjas together,” Reed says, adding that she enjoys seeing a different side of the students than she sees in class.
“Our undergraduate population is definitely what makes Penn so superb and unique, even more so than all the resources here, and I feel lucky to be able to be a part of a community created foremost by them,” Reed says.
The most popular, long-standing tradition at Stouffer, however, is Cookies Night. Started 30 years ago by a previous faculty master, Karl Otto, Cookies Night was taken over nearly 18 years ago by Stouffer’s current faculty master, Phil Nichols.
“Cookies Night is a great time for people from all over Stouffer to get together for a minute or a few hours, to catch up or plan ahead,” says Nichols, who readily admits to really loving cookies.
When the Nichols family moved into Stouffer, they had three children younger than 3. He says that, from early on, the children made friends with all sorts of different people.
“Think about growing up in a place where the people you live with are handpicked to be interesting and diverse,” Nichols says. “It’s awesome to raise children in a place that’s so dedicated to community building.”
Two of the Nichols children are now in college, and the youngest is at boarding school, so it is much quieter these days, but the family still cares for two dogs.
Nichols adds that the College House is “the greatest place in the world to live.” Their family has spent a lot of time in other countries around the globe, but Nichols says there’s no place like Stouffer.