Faculty Spotlight: Clint Willson
If you’ve been in the Laville Honors House recently, chances are you’ve run into LSU civil engineering professor Clint Willson. As the Faculty-in-Residence at Laville, where he lives with his wife, Kay, and son, Meyer, Willson serves as a leader and mentor for students living on the east side of campus. It’s all part of LSU Residential Life’s Faculty-in-Residence program, which encourages unstructured interaction between students and faculty to promote development and academic support in the residential colleges. Laville is one of only two residence halls that boast a faculty-in-residence.
“We tell students if they ever need anything or want to chat, just ring the bell. If we’re home and we’re not busy with something we just can’t stop, we’d love to talk with them,” Willson said.
Willson, a leading expert in Mississippi River hydraulics and sediment transfer, is the director of LSU’s Center for River Studies, which is currently under construction and will be the first building on The Water Campus when it opens next spring. The center will have a scale model of the lower Mississippi River, and will also include a hydraulics laboratory and an outreach exhibit space that will be open to the public.
“Those three pieces allow us to do all the things we’d like to do, from the detailed studies in the hydraulics lab, to studying the Mississippi River in this large, physical model, to the outreach exhibit space that will allow us to communicate the good work the state is doing around coastal restoration protection.”
“I’m an engineer,” Willson said. I study hydrodynamics and sediment transport of the river, but there are so many interconnected pieces. From oysters, to the shipping industry, to communities along the river, they’re all impacted by different strategies and designs for restoration along the river.”
When it comes to giving advice to future and current LSU students, Willson argues that understanding that balance between education and the bigger picture is key to being an effective leader.
“Keeping an eye on the bigger picture is great,” he continued, “but the path to having an impact on broader societal issues is by utilizing your education to obtain a skill set that makes you an expert on a certain issue. At the same time, take advantage of the seminars and workshops to keep that broader perspective. It’s important to have a balance.”
In the short time Willson has lived in Laville, he has had the opportunity to attend several Ogden Honors College events and has enjoyed meeting Honors students. He says that Honors students definitely stand out from other LSU students since they “seem to be comfortable just being themselves.”
“You can see what well-rounded students they are. Education is obviously very important to them, but they get a lot of the broader issues. And I think a lot of them are very comfortable sharing their opinions and views—they seem to speak up more than your traditional college student.”
One of Willson’s favorite things about living in Laville is that he’s more than a mentor—he helps brings other students together. He and Kay have hosted several events in their apartment, making it easy for students to get out of their comfort zone. A couple weeks after move-in day, the couple set up an ice cream sundae bar and invited students to come up and hang out in their apartment.
“After awhile we recognized that most of the students didn’t know each other at all. Two of them were roommates, but the rest were just new LSU students who weren’t hanging out with their friends,” Willson said. “And we thought, here’s an opportunity for students to meet other freshmen who are here at LSU in a relaxed environment. We provide the space and time for that.”
Another event that has stood out to Willson is “Acoustic on the Balcony,” where he and his wife invited students to bring their instruments and play them on their balcony overlooking Laville Courtyard.
“It was great because a lot of these students are really talented and they have this love of music, but it’s so easy to get caught up worrying about your next biology test and you forget to relax.”
The Laville Honors House was remodeled in 2012 and is a central component of the Ogden Honors College’s “campus within a campus.” Ogden Honors students who choose to live in Laville are part of a community made up of other creative, high-achieving students, and have access to a wide range of programming, including research colloquiums, informal faculty talks, service projects and theater nights. They also have access to Laville Courtyard, a semi-private outdoor space often used to host picnics and crawfish boils.
Willson is already looking forward to his second year as a faculty-in-residence and is ready to create a welcoming environment for the next wave of incoming Laville residents.
“We’re already having fun and we’ve already met so many wonderful students, but I think in that second year we can have even more of an impact.”
Story by Allison Howell, Ogden Honors College