Student center could be ultimate group project

By Assistant Campus Editor

Columbia held its second Coffee with the President forum Feb. 26, during which students discussed the need for a space in the South Loop that would allow them to congregate and collaborate with their peers.

Columbia has no school colors, no mascot, no NCAA sports teams, no Greek life and no defined campus—the only thing that unites the Columbia community is its habitual use of Franklin Gothic typeface. For an arts and media college made up of approximately 75 percent commuters, forming connections with other students can be a challenge. Most students come to Columbia knowing they will not spend their Friday nights at school football games or frat houses. Instead, many Columbia students are pulling all-nighters honing their craft. But the artistic college experience is not only about leaving with a great body of work—it should involve meaningful interactions with fellow students outside the classroom, and Columbia students desperately need a designated space to foster that kind of connection.

During the forum, students expressed overwhelming concerns about decentralization on campus. They bemoaned the lack of spaces for student organizations to meet in because locations such as The Loft, 916 S. Wabash Ave., are frequently overbooked.

Students at the forum also noted a lack of interaction across departments, even those located in the same building. A student center could effectively resolve these concerns by creating a common space for students of all majors. 

The college’s urban location makes incorporating a student center difficult, but Columbia does own the 11-story, 110,000-square-foot Johnson Publishing Building at 820 S. Michigan Ave., which has remained empty since the college bought it in 2010. President Kwang-Wu Kim said in his April 8 State of the College address that he is considering repurposing the Johnson Building into a fully functional student center, complete with food, study spaces and late-night hours. Having said that, the college will have to cough up some serious cash, which may be why Kim added, “But don’t hold me to it.”

Kim suggested that fundraising may be the answer to some of the college’s budget woes. 

“My experience working with big donors is they want to see big, exciting plans. They don’t want to see half-baked plans,” Kim said at the forum.

With Columbia’s wealth of talented students who are willing to take on projects as big as installing a student center, the college could save money and use the resources at its disposal—its incredibly creative and driven students—to actualize the long-awaited dream of a student center.

Many students are equipped with skills that could be used in the center’s creation. A professional company could handle the engineering, but Columbia students could tackle the artistic side by participating in the interior design process. The college’s smallest major, interior architecture, contains students who could help design the student center, while marketing communications students could use their connections and networking skills to help gain fundraising for the project.

This would not be the first time students have contributed to the design of a Columbia building. Last year, 2004 alumnus Joe Leamanczyk worked with an engineer to design the glass facade that now covers the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building.

Students’ skills could be put to use in the Johnson Building, which is located almost directly in the center of campus, making it easily accessible to students.

The presence of a student center could potentially increase retention rates as well. The college’s freshman retention rate is  little more than 65 percent, Kim said during the State of the College Address. He added that he would like to increase the overall retention rates to 80 percent—an ambitious goal considering the national average for universities was 71.7 percent during the 2010–2011 school year, according to the Digest of Education Statistics. 

The incorporation of a student center would likely decrease student transfer rates because the sense of community might give them a reason to return to Columbia.  

When alumni return to the college for meetings with the administration or to revisit their college days they must settle for visiting a nondescript lobby in the center of downtown Chicago. 

Having a student center could establish a space specifically meant for Columbia, allowing graduates to leave a legacy at their school, which could increase alumni donations in the long run.

It is possible to unite Columbia students without school colors,  a thriving sports culture, a mascot or Franklin Gothic typeface; it can happen through the ultimate  college collaboration of creating Columbia’s first student center.