Transforming the Residential Experience: Commitment to a 21st Century Campus
By Stephanie Wurtz
You will find open spaces, natural light, and modernized furniture pieces in housing options across the Colorado College campus. But these elements are not just for looks and comfort. They’re part of a broader, strategic vision for a 21st century campus, where the residential experience takes advantage of CC’s location and the variety of building architecture. It is a philosophy meant to enhance the student experience by exploring how the environment impacts learning, relationships, and community.
CC is one of three institutions across the country recognized for its successes in the 21st Century Project, a program facilitated by the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International. Community, flexibility, technology, sustainability, and innovation are the five tenets on which the 21st Century Project is built, and participating college communities are developing creative solutions to address each of those issues, while meeting the unique needs of their own student residents.
As a participant, CC applies the guidelines of the 21st Century Project to actively involve those who will live in campus housing and who support the students in their whole experience at CC. The program helps facilitate focus groups of students who are able to react and respond to the project throughout this process. Students and employees share input on various concepts, sharing what they feel is working, what is not, and what they might envision for a specific space or community. That information is shared with institutions nationwide looking to emulate CC’s successes. “These students are having an opportunity to influence a much wider audience than even just CC students,” said John Lauer, senior associate dean of students and director of residential life, of participants. “They’re contributing to a much broader conversation.”
It is a conversation that guided several campus projects over the past several years, the most significant being the extensive renovation of Slocum Hall. It’s one of the reason CC leaders opted to renovate the residence hall, instead of tearing it down. CC’s commitment to the 21st Century Project guides the philosophy to reuse and repurposes resources, while incorporating substantial enhancements, including all new windows and individual temperature controls for each room, for sustainability and efficiency. The hall was transformed into a unique space meant to foster community with adaptable, technology-supported spaces for students to gather and collaborate.
Additionally, the Mathias Hall renovation project focused on creating common areas, pulling people out of their personal space into community space, so residents are interacting with one another and the environment around them. McGregor Hall’s renovation transformed the space while appreciating the historic nature of the building. By creating spaces that have a perceived identity, like a library, dining room and living room, an inviting atmosphere helps residents feel at home.
CC was selected for the program from a national applicant pool. It’s a unique and distinctive designation for the college. “There are only three campuses in the country where you can so actively participate in a project like this,” said Lauer. “The college is doing what we expect our students to do: if you want to be a part of something that’s unique, here’s another part of that story.”
Participation in the project and the commitment to advancing campus housing began on the CC campus in 2008 with a summit of 20 students, faculty, staff, and administrators who established a long-range initiative to apply the project’s tenets to meet the specific residential needs at CC. “This vision around the 21st century housing project tells the story of our strategic plan by extending the reach of CC’s voice in higher education; we’re not only transforming our student housing, but we’re an example for others to look at and learn from,” said Lauer.
CC is learning, too, as a 21st Century Project participant, implementing features and functions in living spaces and establishing what component aids in creating community, retaining what works and applying those things to future projects. “It’s not necessary to rebuild your entire inventory to student apartments,” said Lauer. “We’ve been over capacity for several years, but we don’t just want to have enough student beds for the demand, we want to continue to develop an inventory that is diverse, not homogenized student housing.”
At CC, those housing options include apartments, small houses, and more traditional residence halls. Growing a 21st century campus helps CC continue learning about how physical construction of student residences extends learning, creating access to relationships and innovative thinking by building around the project’s five tenets. Features like chalkboard walls and whiteboard tables, as well as fireplaces and sitting areas throughout the buildings, offer collaborative, shared spaces for students.
Addressing the unique needs of the CC campus means encompassing the renovation of historic and traditional residence halls along with new construction, and ultimately, transforming the entire residential experience at the college. Dramatic, open floor plans, with common kitchen areas and an outdoor fire pit and sand volleyball court, along with flexible room assignments that include first- and second-year students, help stress the concepts of integration between students, creating situations where they’re supported in their college experience by others.
The 21st Century Project is not an initiative with a clear completion date, but instead, is an ongoing process. Work continues in the construction and renovation phases now. Next, the evaluative phase will build on the successes of these completed projects, presenting an opportunity to look at evidence and data, continuing the learning process for continued success of CC’s residential campus far into the 21st century.