Augustana Center for Student Life

The vision for the Augustana Center for Student Life was derived from the agora of ancient Greece, which was a multi-functional gathering place where living, communication, commerce, politics and philosophy flourished.

It functioned as “an integrative center” for “activities that were crucial for the Greek way of life.” The CSL is also an integrative center that brings together functions that are crucial to the life of the college: the library, the student center, student support services and the dining center. It is a destination that centers our students’ out-of-classroom experiences — learning, social interaction, reflection and recreation — in a single building.

The Vision for the Center for Student Life Augustana College completed its $20 million Center for Student Life (CSL) in the fall of 2013, connected to the existing Thomas Tredway Library. The project included adding 35,000 square feet and two new functions—dining services and student activities—and of the renovation of 39,000 square feet.

The CSL offers an array of inviting social spaces designed specifically for students: contemporary dining venues that encourage discussion of ideas and learning environments where students, faculty and staff, working both individually and collaboratively, can access both print and digital resources. The CSL reinforces our values as a residential college of the liberal arts and sciences and serves as a model for other colleges to consider as we discover the inherent harmonies and synergies among dining and discovery, laughing and learning, study and silence.

Approving the Design and Financing

After the Board of Trustees approved the design and financing of the project in 2012, a year-long study by a campus task force determined that fusing the CSL with the existing library was the best way to address the changing academic and evolving social needs of today’s students. Building on its role as the hub of academic activity and a popular hangout for students, the library was recognized as the ideal place to locate critical student services.

“Augustana students are combining social activities with service projects, blending traditional learning styles with participatory and experiential activities, and turning knowledge from the classroom into action in the community,” said Steven Bahls, president of the college. “This kind of student life requires access to multiple technologies, various types of meeting spaces and resources — not to mention food — at least 16 hours a day.”

Combining dining services, student activities and the library into one facility has positioned Augustana among selective liberal arts colleges for rethinking the traditional library and providing an enhanced learning environment for students. “The variety of spaces throughout the building allow people to continue conversations from class, attend a meeting, dine together or read alone,” said Kent Barnds, vice president of enrollment, communication and planning. “Students can move seamlessly between academic and social activities in a single location, mingling with a complete cross section of the campus community.”

Building the CSL was directly tied to Augustana’s strategic plan at the time, “Affirm our Mission, Assure our Future and Assess our Results,” by upholding the college’s commitment to a student-centered approach and culture. A dynamic building, anchoring the academic quad and housing multiple key student functions, will enhances the campus, benefits the entire student body and improves student recruitment and retention.

In addition, the center’s strategic location between upper-campus residential life and lower-campus academic buildings is ideal for those wishing to make one stop to access the following offices: Learning Commons, Office of Diversity Services, or Office of Student Life and Leadership, which includes Greek Council, the Multicultural Programming Board and Student Life Programming Board.

Naming the new Student Life Center

Just this past May, Augustana College named its innovative Center for Student Life in honor of Murry and Cindy Gerber of Pittsburgh. The building will be called The Gerber Center in honor of the Gerbers’ philanthropic support of the college. The Gerbers have donated $9.8 million to Augustana, placing them at the top of the list of individuals who have made substantial gifts to the college.

Murry Gerber graduated from Augustana in 1975 with a bachelor’s in geology. He earned his master’s from the University of Illinois and worked at Shell Oil for many years. In 1998, he became CEO of EQT Corporation in Pittsburgh, and he was the CEO of EQT until 2010. He served on the EQT board of directors until 2012. “The entire campus community is humbled and honored by the Gerbers’ generosity,” said Augustana President Steve Bahls. “Today we recommit to letting the world know just how special this building is and why it serves as a unique symbol of the liberal arts experience, and how it meets the needs of our students.”

The college opened the student center in the fall of 2013, and it was dedicated on Sept. 14 that year. Since then, the center has become a hub for student life and student support on campus. The $20 million project increased the footprint of the 39,000-square-foot Thomas Tredway Library by nearly 35,000 square feet. It serves as Augustana’s dining room, living room and study.

Dining for students now offers even more quick, fresh, customized options in a market-style setting on the building’s fifth floor. “The student center integrates the social and intellectual lives of our community, supporting Augustana College’s commitment to student growth in mind, body and interpersonal maturity,” said Carla Tracy, director of the Thomas Tredway Library. The building was constructed with the needs of modern students in mind and was designed to be the new heart of campus life. Over the past two years, it has become just that.

Murry and Cindy Gerber

With only a backpack full of clothes, Murry Gerber rode his 10-speed bicycle from Chicago to Rock Island — 180 miles in three days — and moved into Seminary Hall to begin his life as an Augustana student. Of the nearly 500 students in Murry’s graduating class at an inner-city Chicago high school, only 25 or so went on to college.

Murry has said that in that day and age, “there were no expectations for us to go to college,” as manufacturing jobs were plentiful. In fact, during his high school summers, he worked as a union steelworker. That’s probably what he would have continued doing if a high school counselor hadn’t encouraged him to attend college.

Cindy Gerber is a labor and employment attorney who worked in the Pittsburgh area for more than 20 years. Her practice was primarily in the area of union/management relations, executive employment agreements and employment litigation. She was a partner in private law firms for most of her career, and in 2010 she became the chief deputy public defender of Allegheny County. She has since retired from the position to establish the Cindy and Murry Gerber Foundation. In addition to her foundation work, Cindy has served on the boards of numerous civic and charitable organizations in Pittsburgh. She is also an active volunteer with local legal aid organizations and with her children’s schools.

Transforming Student Life

Carla Tracy, director of the Thomas Tredway Library, agreed the opportunities the new center offers could transform student life. “Contrary to what one might think, it will provide more varied student study spaces, since the multi-purpose rooms and other new areas will be available many hours of every day,” Tracy said. “The library will be able to design better quiet-study areas, and I believe that the louder, social kinds of learning will naturally relocate away from the quiet areas.”

Combining the library, dining services and student activities into one building is a step toward enhancing the college’s National Survey of Student Engagement profile. In support of students’ academic endeavors, the initiative will provide technology capabilities throughout the building; private spaces for reference librarians to mentor, tutor and guide students doing research; and more group study spaces. The central dining area and expanded “in between spaces” will allow greater opportunities for students, faculty and staff to meet and develop relationships, increasing the feeling of community on campus.

Augustana’s partners in the design and construction of Center for Student Life are familiar names on campus: Shepley Bulfinch, architects of the original design of the Tredway Library; BLDD Architects, designers of Emmy Carlson Evald Hall; and Russell Construction, which is the team that built Swanson Commons. Additional partners include Rippe & Associates as food service consultants and BRB Architects, which assisted with space planning.

Additional features includes contemporary dining with multiple “Marché (market) dining” stations, where diners choose their ingredients and watch a chef prepare their food; dining seating for 700, private and group study rooms, that include adaptable multi-purpose rooms and digital game room, an extension of the coffee shop and deli, an expansive outdoor, and expanded spaces for the Reading/Writing Center and the library’s Special Collections.

About the Author
Sam Schlouch is the Director of Public Relations and Arts Promotion in the Office of Communication and Marketing at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.