Ohio Colleges Attract Students with Campus Upgrades
From new living spaces and improved athletic facilities to expanded food options and innovation labs, outside-the-classroom offerings are improving the student experience.
BY Ruth Corradi Beach | Photo by Ben Siegel, courtesy of Ohio University
BY Ruth Corradi Beach | Photo by Ben Siegel, courtesy of Ohio University
Students mainly choose a college or university based on their academic field of study and the quality of the programs offered, but schools are transforming the experience of what living and spending time on campus means. Improvements in housing and state-of-the-art amenities like makerspaces and new athletic centers are selling points as well. Four Ohio universities share how these offerings are improving the student experience.
Muskingum University’s Bullock Health and Wellness Complex opened a few weeks after the start of the 2022-23 academic year. This impressive 119,000-square-foot building offers an indoor field house for students, staff and faculty, but that’s just the beginning. Muskingum University president Susan Hasseler says that it fills a campus need, but more than that, it also serves the surrounding New Concord community.
“The complex came out of a visioning process,” she says. “We really needed an indoor field house, which was something everyone else in our athletic conference had. Our stadium was fully concrete ... and had reached the end of its useful life. And finally, our health science programs were just booming.”
Officials addressed all these needs with the Bullock Health and Wellness Complex, which is situated between academic and residential buildings on campus.
“We believe that academics are education, and athletics are too. Student life is part of education as well,” Hasseler says. “[This facility] pulls all three together.”
The complex’s main entrance lobby and concourse contains concessions and restrooms for spectators attending sporting events, as well as access to the upper levels and the outdoor concourse. The complex’s second floor houses a 200-meter regulation indoor track that rings a 60-yard turf playing field used by Muskingum’s varsity and club teams as well as by local high schools.
“We are providing a unique indoor track and field competition space for regional high school athletes as well as serving outdoor track and field and other community groups in our stadium,” Hasseler says.
The second floor also has fitness equipment and a diagnostic training hub. The latter is used not only by student athletes but also by regional health-care professionals and students pursuing degrees in sports medicine and athletic-related fields.
“We are right now working with area health-care providers to provide diagnostic and clinical services to our community,” says Hasseler. “[Through] our growing academic fields of exercise science, nursing, occupational therapy, health and fitness programs, we connect our students with area health and wellness providers. ... There was a particular need for clinical space to bring all these health students together and to serve our region with facilities and staff.”
The complex’s mezzanine offers an innovative amalgam of dual-use spaces. Just as the diagnostic and clinical services on the second floor double as classrooms for hands-on experiences, the mezzanine also has more than one use. The press box is a sports-communication lab. The stadium's hospitality suite is a classroom.
During athletic events, some spaces that overlook the outdoor field are used as media rooms and coaches’ boxes.
“This building was designed for every student, faculty and staff member on campus,” says Hasseler. “There is something in the building for everyone. ... I believe this facility contributes to this very positive spirit that we have on our campus this year.”
Front Street Residence Hall opened in the fall of 2018 as Baldwin Wallace University’s newest student living space. The mixed-use, four-story building in downtown Berea is a creative example of incorporating students into the town.
“We had an old dorm next to our Conservatory of Music,” explains William Reniff, chief financial officer at Baldwin Wallace University, who also oversees buildings and grounds for the school. “That dorm filled up because those music students practically live at the Conservatory of Music and wanted to be near it.”
Northeast Ohio-based DiGeronimo Companies approached the university about acquiring land adjacent to campus to build a mixed-use facility that would include both rooms where students could live and first-floor retail.
“We are not for profit,” Reniff says. “This mixed use meant the first-floor retail would keep it on the property-tax roll — still providing taxes to residents — with three floors of dorms above it.”
Baldwin Wallace University owns the dorms and leases space on the first floor for an open-concept Starbucks that connects directly to the college bookstore. Previously, Baldwin Wallace University’s only bookstore was on campus inside the student union. Now, shoppers on Front Street can pop in any time and grab a sweatshirt or ballcap to show pride for their local university. Other first-floor businesses include Dave’s Cosmic Subs and a U.S. Bank branch.
As far as the student living spaces, there are 17 doubles and 10 singles per floor (80 rooms and 131 beds in total), and Reniff says the dorm fills up quickly during the annual housing lottery.
Just as there is value in welcoming Berea residents into the university’s combination Starbucks and bookstore, there is also value in having students living in downtown Berea.
“Living on Front Street gets students engaged with the citizens of Berea,” says Reniff. “Businesses and neighborhoods seeing students who are well behaved and contributing to the community, that encourages people to say, ‘BW has nice students.’ ”
Miami University in Oxford hired Aramark Corp. to begin providing its campus dining services at the start of the 2022-23 school year — the first time the institution has outsourced food preparation and service since its founding in 1809. The move benefits students by offering more meal options and a wider variety in how they receive them. It was brought on in part by the staffing challenges facing the food-service sector.
“To be able to have sufficient staff and the kinds of knowledge and skills and talent [necessary], it’s hard to recruit that, especially in such a rural location,” says David Creamer, Miami University’s senior vice president for finance and business services. “We had to ask whether we were able to sustain things going forward as we always had.”
Miami University students and faculty come from all over the world, and Aramark’s expertise offers more variety in meal choices.
“How do you make sure you’re offering the types of food that reflect their taste as well as what they’d like to experience from home? We can do that better with a national operator,” Creamer says.
Options range from food-court fare like hand-tossed pizzas and vegetarian-friendly grain bowls, to more traditional offerings such as salad bars and pasta stations. Students can also use the Grubhub app to order ahead from on-campus restaurants and pick up their food when it’s ready
“Aramark is [also] assisting us in creating a ghost kitchen,” Creamer says, referring to a restaurant that has no dining room, offering only delivery or takeout. “Students, faculty and staff don’t always have time to sit and wait on their food or eat in a traditional dining hall, so we’re offering them options and choices to better meet the flexibility they’re looking for from their dining program.”
Seven makerspaces at Ohio University in Athens offer students opportunities to imagine, innovate and create. These types of labs house a variety of tools and materials — from 3D printers to welding equipment and woodworking tools to sewing implements.
Students in Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology have two makerspace options. The Stocker Center, which is staffed by a lab technician, provides the chance to weld, use lathes and work with milling machines. The Academic & Research Center gives Russ College students access to a two-story hangar and industrial crane. Students may work on large and heavy projects in this space, as well as collaborate as a team for classes or competitions.
That cooperative spirit is an important part of the makerspace experience, says Paul Benedict, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Ohio University. Benedict runs the CoLab, which serves as a cross-disciplinary, central hub that welcomes students from all backgrounds and unites them in innovation and entrepreneurship.
“Our space is used in the curriculum, but also co-curricularly,” he says. “We’ve also got students coming in who may have no experience and students who are entrepreneurs, which is perfectly fine with us. My firm belief is that learning happens when you’re trying, messing up and fixing in a nonthreatening, safe way.”
Ohio University’s CREATE_space in Seigfred Hall houses equipment for audio, video, lighting and other artistic endeavors. Seigfred Hall is also home to artistic tools like a wood shop and a letterpress printing facility for students in the College of Fine Arts to work on projects related to their disciplines.
John Bowditch directs the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab. It specializes in computer animation, motion-picture capture and other elements of virtual, digital and augmented-reality games and simulations. He sees the lab both as a way for students to learn more about a topic that already interests them or a way to try something new.
“Some universities make students get up to a certain level before they can experiment with things,” he says. “But I have found that inviting people in on the first day … it’s worked out well for us. It was something I wanted as a student and our current students appreciate it.”
Bowditch aims to connect students with creative tech work happening in the region, adding that industries have funded projects done in Ohio University makerspace labs.
“Our students come from all over the world,” he adds, “and our hope is they’ll join a company in Ohio or do startup work here.”
Benedict, who spent most of his career in startups or as an entrepreneur, agrees.
“In my experience, the magic happens when you have a collision of creative, scientific, engineering and business,” he says. “If any element is missing it can get pretty dull pretty fast. But if you can get all working, pretty amazing things can come out of it.”
This story ran in the Winter-Spring 2023 issue of College 101.
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