When Miami University’s Board of Trustees voted in April to approve planning for the Bicentennial Student Center (BSC), the decision was about more than building sites, budgets, and square footage.
By approving the long-awaited Center, the trustees both honored Miami’s rich history of student engagement and took an important step toward the university’s next century. According to Dean of Students Susan Mosley-Howard, the fact that
the movement behind the BSC has been driven by Miami students for the past eight years is all the more appropriate.
“Our identity, the core of Miami has always been the engaged student,” said Mosley-Howard. “From the early days of the literary societies and the Snowball Rebellion, student involvement has always been a hallmark of Miami. The students have shaped this university, and the Bicentennial Student Center will embody Miami’s student focus.”
The BSC, which is expected to be completed in 2012-13, will be constructed along Spring Street, bordering against the Hub and across from Upham Hall. In order to make space for the 200,000 square-foot structure, Culler, Gaskill, and Rowan Halls will be deconstructed. According to President David Hodge, the BSC is not just a building but a true focal point for the Miami experience.
“We are providing students with the opportunity to come together in one place to exercise leadership, to learn from one another, and to blend their academic and co curricular lives in a way that adds to their success and leads new generations of Miami alumni to look back and say ‘these were the best four years of my life,’” said Hodge.
While the BSC marks a transformational step in Miami’s history, its roots can be traced back to the 1930s when Miami alumni first began contributing toward a proper student union. With enrollment booming following World War II, a temporary solution was found when a barracks building, relocated from a nearby military base, was put up as a makeshift student union in 1948.
In 1955, Miami began construction on the University Center, later renamed the Phillip R. Shriver Center. It was completed in 1958 and provided 137,000 square-feet of space, accommodating Miami’s faculty and staff, the Oxford community, and the student body. While Shriver Center remains a cornerstone of Miami’s campus, its space limitations and community-wide demand leave little room for students. Miami’s undergraduate enrollment has nearly tripled in the 50 years since Shriver Center was completed, and, according to Mosley-Howard, the changes in the students are every bit as dramatic.
“As Miami’s student body has grown and changed, their needs have morphed along with them,” Mosley-Howard said. “Students today are involved in a breadth of activities, and they weave their lives differently than the generations before them. There are so many groups vying for space in the Shriver Center, that the needs of our students are not being met.”
This became evident when a recent round of renovations to King Library, including the addition of a coffee shop and the reconfiguration of group study areas, met with astounding demand from the student body. More than 1.23 million patrons passed through King Library during the first year following the renovations, as the library was transformed from a quiet place to study to a beehive of student activity.
“Having a place to gather is an integral part of a student’s life,” Mosley-Howard said. “This was really pronounced by what’s happened at King Library. And, while we are happy the students use the library so heavily, it cannot meet all the needs served by a real student center.”
Miami is a late entrant in the race to meet the emerging need for a dedicated student center. In-state rivals Bowling Green State University, the University of Cincinnati, and Ohio University have all constructed new student center since 2001, and Ohio State University’s new student union will open in 2010.
Plans for Miami’s three-story BSC, which will feature retail, dining, and large event space, are still taking shape; but central to the design will be ample space for student interaction, including rooms for studying, and group projects. The structure also will house the two-story Center for Student Engagement & Leadership, which will provide works spaces, locked cabinetry, meeting rooms, and lounge spaces to accommodate Miami’s more than 350 student organizations – fewer than 80 organizations are adequately hosted in Shriver Center.
All spaces and services hosted within the Center will be solely for student use, and the BSC is expected to become the 24/7 hub of student activity. It is considered a central element in Miami’s plan to provide one of the top undergraduate experiences in the country.
“From the premise that engagement is at the core of Miami, the BSC is a catalyst for Miami’s objective to provide the best undergraduate experience,” Mosley-Howard said. “We consider the undergraduate experience to be holistic. It’s not just what you do in the classroom or out of the classroom, it’s the intentional blending of the two.”
While paying for a student center is often left to the students, Miami’s long history of student engagement, combined with the approaching celebration of its bicentennial, leaves a historic opportunity for the whole Miami family to become involved. In an effort almost unprecedented in higher education, Miami aims to raise the almost $80 million needed to build the Center from private gifts, especially from its alumni.
Emphasizing the power of broad participation through small gifts, a key goal is for at least half of all Miami alumni to share in the legacy of this transformative project and help launch Miami into its third century. More than half the funds needed to build the center would be raised if even half of Miami’s alumni pledged $200 per year – one dollar for every year of Miami’s history – for three years.
“We want to equip our students to be as effective as they can in the world,” Mosley-Howard said. “Miami alumni are known for taking initiative and being leaders. We need the BSC to support that development. It can be a big part of preparing our students for the world ahead.”
For more information about contributing to the Bicentennial Student Center, contact Susie Sadler, Director of Development for University Projects, at 513/529-9217 or sadlers@MiamiOH.edu. For more information and updates about the Bicentennial Student Center, please visit www.MiamiOH.edu/BSC.
The Bicentennial Student Center will be located in the heart of Miami’s campus, diagonally across Spring Street from Shriver Center.