The Honors Residential Commons and the Hillcrest community are open to Honors students from all majors, years, and interests. Students in these communities engage in activities and experiences in an environment that allows members to learn from each other.

Our Crest - Narrative of the symbols and meanings of the house crest

The crest of the Honors Residential Commons at East Ambler Johnston was designed by a group of faculty, staff, and students in the spring of 2011. The Crest has five foregrounded symbols that sit upon the shield.

The shield references the many Gothic arches found across the campus. It has a maroon-shaded border that meets the forest green bezel signifying the unity between the green of growth in the crest and the traditional maroon at Virginia Tech. The green throughout the design emphasizes that a learning community should be designed for vivification, balancing the rhythmic, seasonal cycles of tradition and the possibility that something new and auspicious will sprout in the right conditions.

Placed over the east door in the original building, this floral cross-and-quarters is an ancient symbol found in various forms on every continent that represents the eternal cycles of life. For the Honors Residential Commons, its place at the bottom of the crest speaks to the way that the present is founded upon the past and how we are called to remember and appreciate those who have come before us.

The tree references the stately beech trees that frame the east and north doors of the hall. Etymologically, "tree" and "truth" have a common root, which reminds us that just as the roots of a tree serve to nourish the whole, truth serves as the source of discovery and learning. A tree teaches patience and the wisdom of a long-term perspective on life and offers shelter to those in need. The roots anchor our community in the soil of a specific place and draw up nourishment from the rich ground of learning and scholarship we have inherited. The roots stretch in all four directions to acknowledge that humans learn and know through multiple intelligences and disciplines. The open horizon between earth and sky echoes the Honors motto, In Itinere Virtue (The Virtue Is In the Journey).

All life comes from and goes back to the earth, and this cycle of reciprocity is suggested by the relation of the book to soil and to the tree. It happens that beech wood was used as a writing surface prior to the availability of paper in Europe, thus our word "book" is derived from the Old Norse and Old English "boc," or "beech." The paper in books comes from trees and reflects how the tree transforms the nutritive learning potential of the earth into knowing and being, in a perennial cycle.

The cord forms a braid made up of three interwoven strands of learning that are expressed in our learning community – scholarship, creative activity, and service. It speaks to the unique weaving of the partnership between faculty, staff, and students. A careful eye will note that each individual cord is woven of smaller cords, suggesting the integrated and iterative way that each element of the college must remain faithful to ideals of the endeavor. The woven strands signify that a strength greater than the sum of its parts is created when our efforts are united. The weaving together of lives and elements of the college life remind us of the college’s residence hall namesake, J. Ambler Johnston, and his statement: "It’s our hope we may weave equally good threads into the fabric of the history of VPI [Virginia Polytechnic Institute]."

Stars help us find our way. At the same time, they humble us and sensibly place us in the midst of a vast universe. These four stars tell of how the people in our community will "Know and Be Known." From their five points shine the five Aspirations for Student Learning: curiosity, self-understanding and integrity, civility, courageous leadership, and Ut Prosim. The ascending scale of their brightness suggests the way that a true education progressively reveals the brilliance and light in each person, while the change in size symbolizes the continuing presence in the community of students throughout their years at Virginia Tech.

Vision Statement

The Honors Residential Commons at East Ambler Johnston strives to engage a diverse community of students pursuing development of themselves, relationships with others, and the projection of their passions into the greater community with unwavering curiosity and a commitment to lifelong service and learning.

Curiosity, engagement, belonging

While residential colleges are well established at smaller liberal arts and Ivy League colleges, they have also grown in popularity at public state institutions. The concept of the residential college offers new opportunities for learning engagement at Virginia Tech, which serves the largest full-time student population in Virginia. The increased interactions with faculty preceptors and peers from all academic disciplines and years provides a thriving sense of community that supports academic and civic engagement.

Some aspects of the community are intrinsic to the residential–college environment, such as guest lectures, shared meals, educational seminars, and social events. The most important traditions will be shaped and maintained by members; the first classes of residents will play a large role in the creation of the community culture. The residential college will center around the shared values of:

  • belonging to a supportive environment where members are responsible to each other,
  • curiosity and an interest in lifelong learning, and
  • engagement within and outside the community through active participation and service.

The Residential College Philosophy

"Know and be known."

The residential colleges are communities of students who share a deep intellectual curiosity. Members actively take part in lectures, discussions, social events, and other collective activities that create a sense of shared tradition around their community.

While many living–learning communities are primarily for freshmen, the residential college model deliberately places freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students under the same roof. As a result, returning students play an important mentoring and leadership role. If they choose to, members have the opportunity to stay in the residential college throughout their time at the university, although they may transition to more private room styles as they become senior members of the community.

The residential colleges reflect all aspects of student learning, touching intellectual life, social life, and contemplative life. They give residents a space where they can govern themselves, in collaboration with faculty and staff members, in a unique academic atmosphere.

The collaborative environment offers many opportunities for formal and informal student leadership, as residents participate in governance of their community and mentorship for peers and younger members. The experiences students get from a residential college help them take learning beyond the classroom and apply it to all aspects of life.

When students graduate from the university and their residential college community, they will have gained more than knowledge in their chosen subject matter; they will possess experience in analytical thinking, creative problem solving, and finding common ground among diverse groups of people.

An additional benefit of choosing the Honors Residential Commons is that incoming first-year students will be given a two-year contract, thereby securing on-campus housing for their second year as well.

College Leadership

The Honors Residential Commons has a robust self–government. The formal leadership structures include the College Council (elected by popular vote of the HRC fellowship), Resident Advisors (selected through a rigorous hiring process), and Apartment Fellows (appointed based on group application and interviews).  All of these student leaders work together to steward the mission of the residential college.  In fact, every student, regardless of their age, year, or position, is a leader within the Honors Residential Commons.  There is no limit to what each student can do or contribute, and because of that every student is encouraged to make a difference in the community.


The Honors Residential Commons (HRC) is a community in which each individual, faculty and student alike, have chosen to live together, to support one another, and to aid each other in the pursuit of their dreams. It is here where new friendships are made, new knowledge is gained, and we prepare one another to embrace the opportunities that life lays before us.

The Honors Residential Commons at Virginia Tech began as a partnership between Student Affairs and University Honors.  Rather than merely renovating Ambler Johnston Hall (AJ), they chose to change the model and create “a place where students live so they can learn.”  Thus, East AJ became the Honors Residential College, where students and faculty would live throughout the school year.  The HRC has become a presence on Tech’s campus and continues to gain attention for its combination of faculty and student life.


Dr. Pablo Tarazaga
Faculty Principal, Honors Residential Commons

Ambler Johnston Hall
Ambler Johnston Hall

Architecture and environment shape experience. With that in mind, the residential colleges at Ambler Johnston were designed to foster co-curricular learning and community engagement. Once a traditional residence hall, Ambler Johnston has been renovated to provide places where residents can engage with peers and faculty members.

Common areas and shared spaces between the Honors Residential College and the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston include living and game rooms, classrooms, meeting spaces, a theater, a library, a fitness area and a large kitchen to encourage interaction around meals.

The residential colleges have refurbished, air-conditioned student rooms, including a mix of traditional, suite-style and apartment-style rooms. Homes for two faculty principals, two student affairs staff members, and several faculty offices will be located within the community to encourage a collaborative atmosphere that integrates academic work and collegial life. Residents shouldn't be surprised when they get invited to attend a reception, lecture, or other event right in their faculty principal’s home.

For more information, please visit the Honors Residential Commons website.