Collin and Tara McKinney (with Mort the pug) have made a second-floor apartment in Roberts Hall their home since late 2018.


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An intrepid faculty family is the first to share residential space with students
by Kristin Baird Rattini
photographs by Dustin Fenstermacher
It’s 2 a.m. The fire alarm has just gone off in Roberts Hall, triggered by a student’s burnt pot of macaroni and cheese. As the hall’s sophomore residents groggily congregate outside the building, an unexpected trio in their midst — Professor Collin McKinney, his wife, Tara, and their pug, Mort — draws both friendly waves and quizzical stares.

McKinney, who teaches Spanish, is Bucknell’s first professor-in-residence. Since December 2018, he and his family have lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Roberts Hall. Not all of his roughly 300 neighbors in Roberts, Trax and Kress (known as RTK) have yet realized he lives there or have come to call at 201 Roberts Hall, but McKinney has issued a standing invitation. Through weekly coffee hours, larger social events, casual conversations and just being present for residents — even during middle-of-the-night fire alarms — McKinney has developed well-rounded relationships and meaningful connections with Bucknell’s multidimensional students.


The idea of a professor-in-residence program at Bucknell first percolated in 2012 as a recommendation of Bucknell’s Strengthening of Our Residential Community committee report. “The goal is to help the University develop a culture of intellectual engagement throughout the academic experience and to provide a seamless living and learning experience for our students,” says Amy Badal, the Fritz Family Dean of Students.

As part of a $15 million renovation of Roberts Hall in 2016, the second-floor office that once housed Bucknell’s Writing Center was converted into a two-bedroom apartment. The residence was ready; it just needed a professor.

The position seemed a natural fit for McKinney. Throughout his 15 years at Bucknell, he has frequently sought opportunities beyond the classroom. “Too often, our interactions [as faculty] with students are mediated by schoolwork, exams and papers,” he says. “It’s nice to take that completely out of the equation and have interactions with students that allow me to get to know them — their goals, their anxieties and what they’re into.”

McKinney is the senior fellow in the Languages & Cultures Residential College. He has co-led four BACES (Bucknell Advancing Communities, Educating and Serving) trips to the Dominican Republic and has been faculty-in-residence during the semesterlong Bucknell en España study-abroad program in Granada, Spain. He also has co-led a summer session in Spain, hiking 160 miles of the Camino de Santiago with students.

“That experience was especially relevant,” McKinney says. “You’re hiking together every day, sleeping in pilgrim hostels on bunk beds. You’re used to being in close quarters with students.”

The timing of the professor-in-residence opening was particularly fortuitous for the McKinney family of five (six when you include Mort).

“We lived in a pretty big house, with five bedrooms, on an acre at the edge of town,” McKinney says. “We already had one child leave home, and the second was getting ready to go to college. We’d been talking for a while about downsizing and were looking at smaller places downtown, closer to campus. When the position was announced, we said, ‘Hey, let’s go for it.’ ”


The McKinney family moved into Roberts Hall over winter break of the 2018-19 academic year with their second child, Dom, a high school senior, and youngest, Ian, a high school freshman, sharing bunk beds in the second bedroom. They sold off a fair bit of furniture as well as all their yard tools. “We always joke as a family that the best part is that we don’t have to rake leaves or shovel snow anymore,” McKinney says.

The McKinneys enjoy a four-minute commute to work: McKinney walks to Coleman Hall, and Tara walks to her two jobs at the Office of Accessibility Resources Testing Center in Academic West and the Bertrand Library Service Desk.

Collin McKinney and Mort hang out with Andrei Bucaloiu ’22 in the Roberts Hall lounge during one of McKinney’s weekly coffee hours
Collin McKinney and Mort hang out with Andrei Bucaloiu ’22 in the Roberts Hall lounge during one of McKinney’s weekly coffee hours.
They have settled into the rhythms of Roberts Hall. “Wednesdays and Saturdays are the two nights that students like to play music and dance and jump on the ceiling above our bed, so our solution is some noise-canceling headphones and earplugs,” Tara says.

They also have learned to expect the unexpected. One night, at 2 a.m., they heard a tap at their second-floor window. “Some students on the fourth floor had ordered a pizza and were lowering a suitcase for the delivery guy on the ground to put the pizza in,” McKinney says. “I joke that I should have grabbed a slice as it was going up.”

Then came the ultimate unexpected: the campus closure in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Roberts Hall was eerily quiet and nearly empty. Among the few students who remained was Sherab Dorji ’22, who couldn’t return home to Bhutan. “Collin and Tara were so inviting,” Dorji says. “They would have me over for tea and listen to my worries and fears. They were such a comforting presence.”


It is in those more intimate moments that McKinney has felt most connected to his students. “At first when we moved in, I thought I wanted to have big events with all 300 students attending,” he says. “But I’ve definitely learned that the more meaningful interactions are the smaller ones, where you really can get to know the students and have more frequent contact.”

His larger-scale events have been well attended, especially the Diwali festival this past November. But his weekly coffee hour in the Roberts Hall lounge has proven to be his most popular and successful way to connect with students.

“We talk about anything and everything,” says Andrei Bucaloiu ’22, a double major in creative writing and Spanish. “We chat about how our weeks are going, if we’re trying to find research opportunities. Since he lives in our community, we can talk about all the small happenings that occur in RTK.”

McKinney will sometimes invite staff members from the global education office and career center to the coffee hour so students can talk to them casually — even in their pajamas. “That’s what I’m always thinking of when I put these events together: how to combine these two worlds, the academic world and the student-life world,” he says.

Nearly every coffee hour also features a VIP (very important pug): Mort. “I have no delusions that at coffee hour the students have come to see me,” McKinney says with a laugh. Whether it’s due to Mort or McKinney, the coffee hour boasts a robust repeat clientele. “We get students who lived in RTK last year but still come to the coffee hour,” he says. “I think that’s a testament to the degree to which we’ve gotten to know each other and that they value that experience.”

If the creation of more residence-hall apartments becomes possible, Badal would love to see the program expand. Now in the first year of his second three-year faculty-in-residence term, McKinney encourages his fellow professors to seek out future opportunities, should they materialize.

“The classroom provides us only a very small window into our students’ lives,” McKinney says. “When we see them outside the classroom, we really get to see the whole person. Those experiences are so rewarding.”