New residence hall follows latest campus living trends

A rectangular room with two beds, chairs, desks, and dressers – it used to be a simple dorm room, where students slept after a busy day of classes, studying, and socializing.

Today, the residence hall is a carefully designed building with everything from furniture and lighting to lounges and telephones strategically placed.

by Gabrielle Williams

Illustration: student studing under lampIt’s all about creating a community, according to Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Eva Krebs. “A dormitory is just a place for students to sleep. Residence halls are living and learning environments where people make their home. They explore and gain self esteem and find their potential,” said Krebs. “A residence hall serves a distinct purpose.”

Pacific’s new residence hall, scheduled for construction this fall, will follow this theory. Planned to hold nearly 170 students, the new residence hall will fill several needs, including allowing more students to be able to live on campus. “We don’t house as many students on campus as other schools,” added Krebs. “We are striving for 75 percent of students being on campus, but we are only at 60 to 65 percent for Arts and Sciences students (about 700 students).” With the addition of more rooms, Krebs said she hopes this number is boosted significantly.

“Now we know community is something one tries to orchestrate where students can reach their potential, learn where to risk, and where to find safety in academics and personal life.”

-Eva Krebs,
Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students

In addition, the residence hall will be situated on the corner of University Avenue and Sunset Drive, creating a new gateway to the University. “We wanted something there that would be substantial, elegant, and new,” said Krebs. “It makes perfect sense.” Nestled between Vandervelden Court, which features University apartments housing 147 juniors and seniors, and McCormick Hall, the new residence hall also adds to the residential corner of campus clustering student living together.

Unlike any other Pacific living facility, the new residence hall will house sophomores, juniors, and seniors with a unique mix of rooms. The desire to create more living space for juniors and seniors was essential. “At Pacific we house very few juniors and seniors. To have a good fully embroidered experience for students we need a good mix (of ages) and we need good facilities for that,” said Krebs. “Juniors and seniors show (younger students) they can make it and that can be very inspiring.”

The plan is that this new building will encourage more juniors and seniors to live on campus longer. In order to do that, the building combines apartment style living, ideal for upperclassmen, with suites, which are geared for sophomores. “This new hall will be a hybrid between a residence hall and Vandervelden,” said Assistant Dean of Students Julie Murray-Jensen. The kitchens and the building’s location across the street from the main campus are expected to be a draw to older students. But younger students still need the community living aspect that suites offer. “This new building will give students a lot more options and choices,” said Assistant Housing Director Lisa Molitor Geraci ’91. Also it will provide much needed space for transfer students who are seeking apartment style living situations. “Right now only a small number of transfer students get into Vandervelden,” Geraci added.

The mixture of room styles will create a positive living and learning environment, said Krebs, but at the same time much has been learned since Vandervelden Court was built in 1995. “Community is hard to build there. In learning from that, we wanted interior corridors (in the new building).”

Providing a space where students are able to create community can be a determining factor in whether a student returns the following semester. “Now we know community is something one tries to orchestrate where students can reach their potential, learn where to risk, and where to find safety in academics and personal life,” said Krebs. Every aspect of a building is considered when working towards this goal. “We need to create an atmosphere for students to create community. We need to create ways to make students connect,” added Murray-Jensen. This means scratching the traditional industrial fluorescent lighting, durable couches, and metal beds for a more “home-like” feeling.
When Clark Hall was built in 1966, architects and University administrators focused on durability and efficiency. Now, noted Murray-Jensen, “we are focused on creating a loungy feel with comfortable furniture. We want couches that you want to sit on. We look at where students are going to want to gather. Of course, we want attached pillows, so they don’t walk away, but we want students to sit there. And we are not afraid of colors.”

This can be a shock to alumni and parents who experienced a different philosophy of student living. “Alumni we talk to are struck by the fact that men and women live on the same floor and have visitation rights,” said Krebs. “But if they look more deeply, they might be struck by the actual intensive design and the value of the experience. We have shifted the notion from dormitory to residence hall living.” About 10 years ago Pacific’s residence halls became co-ed, which is now common at most college campuses. “The co-ed halls have worked out well,” said Housing Director Jan Saunders. “It’s provided a balance, which is a good thing.” But students are now requesting co-ed living arrangements and co-ed bathrooms, which is possible in Vandervelden Court and will be offered in the new residence hall for students who request it.

Students today also expect amenities and privacy, something that wasn’t a priority or even offered 50, 30 or even 20 years ago in campus living. Yet privacy, according to student life administrators and studies done with Pacific students, must be earned. “Even though students want their own rooms and bathrooms, freshmen learn skills from a community of shared spaces,” said Krebs. “There are real developmental reasons for having freshmen share rooms and bathrooms then live in suites, then apartments. It’s almost a rite of passage. It is the notion of progressing and narrowing your circle of friends.” Getting freshmen to understand this can be difficult, said Assistant Director of Residence Life and Complex Director Ryan Aiello. “It’s a challenge. Students want their own space, but they also want community.”

The commitment to a full college experience is part of what draws students to Pacific, said Murray-Jensen, and what she said is a large part of why she enjoys working at the University. “It’s nice to be at Pacific where the whole student experience is considered.” Today, added Krebs, the concept of “student life” recognizes that learning doesn’t just happen inside a classroom. “We know that a large part of the development of one’s ability within a climate of safety often occurs outside of the classroom. Community building and skill developing occurs when students teach other students. Putting students in the company of other students is a good thing to do. … People who live in residence halls simply do better. Statistics show it’s a better thing to do.” Aiello said he wishes every student would choose to live on campus during his Pacific tenure. “Residence halls are a place where students can connect with other people and learn the skills that make you marketable to go along with your degree,” he said. “Living on campus enriches a student’s experience.”

Outdated buildings are not just unattractive to students, but can also cause more problems, said Murray-Jensen. “We need to create an environment where people can unwind. When you have nice areas, there are less judicial problems and less vandalism.” Saunders agreed. “Generally when students live in a nice place, then we see less damage.”

The understanding of student living environments coupled with several changes, has helped Pacific’s Department of Student Life grow and change over the years. Just in the past 10 years, said Krebs, who came to Pacific in 1995, she has seen an increased interest in the facilities department to attend to the residence halls. “They are very interested in maintaining places where students live,” noted Krebs. “They are people who understand the buildings where the students reside.” In addition, resident directors are hired with master’s degrees, enhancing the staff that interacts daily with students.
Students also are stepping up and showing more hall leadership. “RHA (Residence Hall Association) is more involved and more eager,” said Krebs. “They do more programming than ever before. They are the people who live here and have pride in their place. That’s the difference.”

Another trend seen over the past five years is the involvement of parents. “Parents are way more involved,” said Murray-Jensen. “Across the board, with ‘millennials,’ this generation, we have seen an increase in the level of parent knowledge about their student and their investment in their student. Parents want to be involved, so we try to plug them in to the student’s experience.”

Residence hall construction is also happening across the Northwest. Murray-Jensen said they saw building and renovation at numerous schools they toured when first planning Pacific’s new residence hall. “There’s a real movement now for students to live on campus. Institutions are investing in that and construction is booming on campuses.”

Pacific’s new building will work towards an environmental endorsement or green building certification, a unique and difficult task for a residence hall and Krebs added, another level of education for students who reside there. Such features have been carefully considered and vetted with students throughout the brainstorming and design process. “Every step of the way we’ve had student feedback,” said Murray-Jensen. “We did a study of what students wanted and what students’ demands are and we did a comprehensive job to make sure we had all information that was available.”

Once termed “the Pacific difference,” the personal and strong ties to students have always set the University apart. Yet, according to Krebs, as the campus grows and buildings are renovated and added, the decision to build a residence hall has a tremendous impact on current and prospective students. “Whenever you build something new, that’s wonderful,” she said. “But the fact that it’s a residence hall speaks volumes of the importance put on students and the experience we hope they have.” The combination of technology, comfortable lounges, and inviting living areas, said Murray-Jensen, is expected and wanted in new and current residence halls. “We are really creating a home away from home for these students.”

Drawing: Artist's rendering of new residence hall. (copyright Mahlum Architects)

Artist's rendering of new residence hall.

Floorplan: typical unit in new residence hall

Typcial double-suite floor plan.


Photo: Room in McCormick Hall circa 1950s

Students study in McCormick Hall. Circa 1950s

Photo: McCormick Hall lobby circa 1960s

Students talk and relax to music in McCormick Hall lounge. Circa 1960s.

Courtesy Pacific University Archives.