by Roxanne Cullen
The University Center. It is just that, a central point on the campus, the hub around which things revolve, a focal or pivotal point, encased in a beautifully and thoughtfully designed building that is a physical tribute to our university goals of community and collaboration. Last week after my 11:00 o’clock class in FLITE I decided to just swing through the new building on my way back to my office in ASC. I had seen some of the video footage that had been posted, but that doesn’t really do it justice. A photograph can’t capture the energy and you feel when you enter the building. I stopped at one of the food courts to grab something to eat and the young man behind the counter smiled sheepishly and said “This is my first day.” I smiled back and said “me too!” Everyone was still exploring the space and taking in the lovely design features.
The combination of glass, wood, stone and other natural elements like the birch trees that form the entrance to the dining area creates a sense of seamlessness between the outdoors and the indoors, though on that cold January day, the fireplaces provided a welcome distance from the sub-zero weather. The designers also incorporated thoughtful pieces of Ferris history like the corner stone from Masselink Hall and other remnants of Ferris structures.
I have been part of the Ferris community since 1983 and what a different campus we have become in that time. Each new building, the creative landscaping along with features like the Art Walk have contributed to a friendlier more student-centered campus. When I arrived here in 1983 there were no outdoor seating areas; there was no main entrance to the campus; there were no signs to help one navigate the campus because there was only one road through campus. Commuters had to gather in a dark lounge area at the end of the second floor hallway in the Starr building, an area that eventually had to be taken from them when additional office space was needed, leaving them virtually nowhere to congregate. The Rankin Center needed renovation thirty years ago! While located centrally, there was never anything that was very inviting or convenient about the space. Our colleagues in Student Affairs have been very patient waiting for this renovation.
To call it a renovation may technically be true, but the entire structure feels brand new. My husband, the other Dr. Cullen, had a meeting scheduled in the Center a few days after I had first been there. He had not yet visited and asked if the room he was going to was where the Dome Room was. I just laughed out loud. I told him that he would not be able to tell where the old rooms were, that he had a totally new experience awaiting him.
That first day when I was finding my way around unfamiliar territory, I ran into several of my students who were eating lunch. They asked me to join them, which I did. For me, having an inviting space where I can meet with my students on an informal basis is perhaps the greatest benefit of all. Over the years we have come to understand the importance of the student experiences outside of the classroom and the role those experiences play on student learning inside the classroom as well as the impact on things like student retention. This new space goes a long way toward recognizing in a very visible way the big picture of student life and the many facets that make up the Ferris community.
I think it is very fitting that at the end of this month, the kick off for the annual month-long Festival of the Arts will be held in the new Center with the program “Disparate Elements: A Steampunk Revolution” featuring international artists alongside student and faculty work and community artists. The new University Center is a space that invites this kind of collaboration and offers us comfortable and engaging spaces in which to interact and build community.