You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.
– Abraham Lincoln
Volume 76 | Issue 2
March 2008

What’s new in college unions and student activities?

Smith College
Spontaneous Art Night
Submitted by: Patrick Connelly, Assistant Director for Student Activities 

Colleges often require the use of the left brain over the right. Students, staff, and faculty spend the semester busily reading and writing, presenting and discussing. In 2007, Emily Casey, a student intern for the Nolen Arts Lounge in the Smith College Campus Center, developed a program known as Spontaneous Art Night to combat the linear process of learning.

"I start to crave color, crazy shapes, the third dimension—anything other than the linear black and white of a textbook page or computer screen," Casey said.

This monthly event often focuses on a theme that ties it to the current exhibit on display; however, themes are often ignored by the students doing the actual creating. Instead, students choose to let their imaginations run wild, spurred on by the materials put in front of them: wire, paper, bubble wrap, fabric, and whatever else may be available. The materials are donated by Traces: The Recycling and Arts Center for Education and Sustainability, a campus collaboration that redistributes donated materials for arts projects, teacher workshops, and other creative endeavors.

At a recent Spontaneous Art Night, a handful of students worked together, absorbed for hours on the creation of a dress from bubble wrap and shiny poster paper. These types of creations sometimes become gifts to be presented in person or sent through the mail.

"I once watched one woman decorate a shoe box, which she filled with pinecones and a picture to send to a friend," Casey said.

Often creations are displayed within the gallery itself, opening up the world of art to a whole new campus population. Students come to Spontaneous Arts Night as individuals or in groups, but the creative process tying them together allows students to redefine their idea of community and develop new friendships while reaffirming existing ones.

"In the classroom, I am a doodler. At Spontaneous Art Night, the sensation of freeing my doodles from their margins, placing them in the center of a sheet of construction paper or cork board, letting them take flight through twisted copper wire, sharing them with friends and strangers is exhilarating," Casey said. "The liberty of that unplanned time, unplanned creativity allows me to return to my studies more focused and enlivened. It also just makes me a happier human being, which really is what it is all about."

California State University–Dominguez Hills
Iron Chef Dominguez Hills
Submitted by: Carole Desgroppes-Brown, Program Coordinator

And the secret ingredient is … buffalo!" announced Markus Biegel, the acting Chairman Kaga and student leader at California State University–Dominguez Hills.

On Oct. 4, 2007, a kitchen stadium was erected in the Loker Student Union’s Palm Courtyard to house the first round of Iron Chef Dominguez Hills. Four stations and four student chef groups provided three hours of intense culinary competition and excitement. The teams had an hour to prepare no less than four dishes that included this secret ingredient.

Iron Chef Dominguez Hills is like the television show "Iron Chef America," adding its own twists to fit and cater to the campus. The idea originated with Toby Bushee, catering event manager, who visualized the whole event. Student teams were selected early in the semester and told to provide an ingredient wish list. The early team selection allowed Bushee to assess their cooking skills and abilities and provide kitchen safety training to each group. The teams helped spread the word about the event to friends, which started a buzz on campus.

The competition in October was the first in a series of three events during the academic year. The first two events have students competing against one another to decide which team will perform in the final event, a cook-off against the university’s Iron Chef—Executive Chef Elder Flores, California School of Culinary Arts. Flores has worked at the California State University–Dominguez Hill for the past 10 years and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School of Pasadena.

"I felt better about myself for accepting the challenge. It wasn’t about winning, but rather about embracing the college experience. College is supposed to be about personal, academic, and social growth. The Iron Chef competition enriched my life in each of those ways," said Iron Chef Contestant Roberto Vazquez.

The first round of Iron Chef Dominguez Hills was a tremendous event bringing students and their culinary talents together.

"Over 200 excited spectators cheered our competitors on as sides were chosen and judges scrutinized everything from plate presentation to the fusion of flavors," said Richard Chester, director of commercial services.

The buzz after the event was incredible; students were asking when the next one will happen.

"We could have invited chefs from local restaurants, and they wouldn’t have been able to do what students did. They put amazing food and presentation together," Bushee said.

The competition added to campus life by offering students a chance to do something different, to show their cooking talents to their friends, family, and other campus community members.

Iron Chef Dominguez Hills also promoted community building. The campus collaborated together to make this event a success, and Campus Dining was overwhelmed by the support, receiving donations of the kitchen equipment, food, and chef coats.

The remaining two events in the series will take place during coming months.

"We are now ready to take it to the next level and would love to see an Iron Chef competition between other university teams," Bushee said.

Virginia Tech
Crane Exhibit
Submitted by: Sandra Broughton, Marketing and Communications

In the time following the April 16, 2007, shootings at Virginia Tech, the university received an outpouring of support. Among the items that staff received were numerous origami cranes.

Most of the cranes came from Ray Thomas, an origami instructor at Fresno City College in California. After the shootings, Thomas organized a group of students and community members who dedicated themselves to creating 33,000 cranes—1,000 for each victim.

Steve Estrada, a Virginia Tech administrative assistant in charge of cataloguing all gifts received, and Mary Tartaro, arts program coordinator, had the idea to make an art display from the thousands of cranes.

During winter break, Tartaro seized the opportunity to display the cranes in a gallery that did not have an exhibit in it at the time. On Dec. 9, she gathered with three artist friends to create the memorial display.

"The artists congregated in the gallery, ‘cranestormed,’ and spent hours trying different approaches. The final installation was settled on in late afternoon, with finishing touches [added] that night," Tartaro said.

As it was winter break, the gallery was closed. But the glass front and side windows allowed the cranes to be viewed from many angles.

"The response was unanimously positive," Tartaro said. "No one in the department anticipated that it would be such a hit."

The cranes received media coverage from local newspapers and television stations, enabling not only students, staff, and faculty to learn of the crane display, but also community members. Some families of victims went to view and take pictures of the cranes.

According to Tartaro, when seeing the cranes, one is filled with a sense of reverence and peace, which was the intent.

"The crane is the universal symbol of peace, and the installation certainly has the message of peace and solidarity," she said.

The cranes were just a small example of what members of the Virginia Tech community received as mementoes of support. An exhibit to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the shootings is being planned and will include many more of these items.

University of North Carolina–Wilmington
Burney Center Sculpture
Submitted by: Carolyn Farley, Executive Director of Campus Life

t the University of North Carolina–Wilmington, renovations have been recently completed to the new Burney Center, which will house a large multipurpose ballroom space. To improve the aesthetics of the lobby and include student artwork, a wall sculpture was commissioned from a fine arts class.

"The faculty member, Andi Steele, developed the project with Shane Fernando, the curator of our permanent student art collection," said Carolyn Farley, executive director of campus life.

Each member of Steele’s fine arts class was asked to develop a concept for the wall sculpture. Then, they were divided into three teams, who decided on one concept to further develop, which included providing a detailed drawing and a three-dimensional replica of the proposed piece.

"They did all this without having actually been in the venue where the piece was to be installed," Farley said. "The students had worked with some photographs and the architectural drawings of the lobby area."

Once the teams had fully developed concepts, each made a presentation to a panel of judges that included Fernando, Farley, and Jim Pue-Gilchrist, the construction project manager. The judges deliberated and chose a piece for installation; they also provided feedback about the piece relating any concerns about chosen materials.

For their final project of the semester, the entire class worked together to create the final wall sculpture.

"This has been a tremendous experience for the student who may not have yet had a chance to work on a commissioned piece and for the staff who have had a chance to follow the students’ work and get caught up in their enthusiasm for the opportunity," Farley said. "It has truly been a win-win situation."

Pittsburg State University
Relaxation Room
Submitted by: Jeff Steinmiller, Overman Student Center Director

The Overman Student Center at Pittsburg State University in Kansas is on a pursuit to help relieve stress in the lives of student, faculty, and staff. Last January, the union converted an underused room to a Relaxation Room.

According to Jeff Steinmiller, director, the wellness and prevention coordinator had requested the union create a quiet area where students could relax and meditate.

"After attending the Region 11 conference last year at Creighton [University], I came back with the massage chair idea," Steinmiller said. "Creighton has a few chairs in an open lounge space."

Steinmiller and colleagues wanted to combine the idea of a quiet room with the massage chairs, which gave way to the Relaxation Room idea.

"This area has five massage chairs that anyone on campus can use," Steinmiller said. "And there is no cost to anyone."

The relaxing mood is set by piping in soothing music and keeping the lights dim. Also, when in the room, the use of cell phones, iPods, laptops, and other such items is prohibited.

"[The chairs] have three settings—upper back, lower back, or full," Steinmiller said. "You can also program the chair to hit a certain area."

Since its inception, the Relaxation Room has been a hit at the Overman Student Center. And faculty and staff use it as well as students.

"In fact, my vice president, who was very skeptical about the idea to begin with, after trying it out, is now one of the most vocal supporters of it," Steinmiller said.

The Relaxation Room is open to all daily from 9 a.m.–8 p.m. if an attendant is on duty.

"Since the room is near an exit, I am concerned about potential theft of a chair when the building is open but there is no attendant," Steinmiller said.

Overall, Steinmiller considers the Relaxation Room a success and adds, "no complaints on anything."

The Ohio State University
Cookout with Pets
Submitted by: Kay Robinson, Senior Coordinator of Student Involvement

The Ohio State University has many students who live off campus in the surrounding community. So, programming ideas often have to bring creative enough to bring students back on campus.

"We thought of doing a cookout on our South Oval area and wanted to add a twist," said Kay Robinson, senior coordinator of student involvement.

The added twist led to the first "Cookout with Pets," which took place last year.

"It was perfect because they wanted to see other pets, and we held the event in early evening when they would probably be home and walking their pets anyway," Robinson said.

The picnicking pets included cats, dogs, turtle, rabbits, guinea pigs, and reptiles.

"We had contests like cutest pet, ugliest pet, best pet trick, and coolest pet, with prizes from our local pet store," Robinson said.

With so much success last year, the event was held again this year, with an added "Flying K-9s" performance.

"They did tricks with Frisbees and balls—catching them in the air, behind them, all that. It was very fun," Robinson said.

Although the cookout has a minimal budget, only allowing for hotdogs and cold drinks, it continued to be popular this year. According to Robinson, plans are already underway for next year to include a pet obstacle course.

Bowling Green State University
Beer Dinner
Submitted by: Justin Rudisille, Programs Graduate Assistant

Adistinctive feature of Bowling Green State University’s Bowen-Thompson Student Union is the Black Swamp Pub, a programming space and dining center that provides a number of opportunities for collaboration between the union and University Dining Services. This environment has generated a new program: Beer Dinners.

Three years ago, alcohol consumption was turned into a learning experience through beer tasting.

"Each month in the Black Swamp Pub, dozens of loyal regulars and curious newcomers come together to explore a new category or theme within the complex world of beer," said Justin Rudisille, programs graduate assistant. "Student, faculty, and staff participants engage in discussions about beer that are impressively intricate and well-informed, and casual observers to the programs cannot help noticing the community-building in action."

Over the past year, participants have expressed an interest in starting the Beer Dinner program.

"Major breweries around the country regularly host such events, during which each course of a meal is carefully matched with a beer that has complementary characteristics and flavor," Rusidille said.

Interested in bringing this experience to participants, Rudisille started researching menus using books and the Internet, ultimately structuring a four-course meal with a different beer to compliment each course.

Tickets for the first Black Swamp Pub Beer Dinner sold out in four days. Tickets were $25 per person, which according to Rudisille, made up for the cost of the beer and about half of the food.

"We had to cut off attendance at 36 people because that was the maximum amount we could serve based on our beer order," Rudisille said. "We actually had to turn people away."

Those who did have the chance to attend had a great time, as the event was a success.

"As always, participants enjoyed conversations with each other about the beer, the food, and life in general, while learning a few things about how they might create matches of their own," Rudisille said.

Participants left satisfied and were quick to ask when the next beer dinner might be taking place.

"Their only criticism seemed to be that we fed them too much," Rudisille said.

State University of New York–Geneseo
Upstate Escapes
Submitted by: Carey Backman, Assistant Director, College Union and Activities

A program previously known as Best of Western New York recently received a makeover. Upstate Escapes offers students at SUNY–Geneseo the opportunity to take a trip into the city with a promise of furthering education.

A new Upstate Escapes grant program allows faculty members and student organizations to apply for up to $300 toward a trip that will "enhance their college experience by expanding on classroom learning and helping to foster relationships with peers," according to the proposal form. The $300 is intended to pay for transportation costs.

"By having the grant program, money is set aside so that student organizations and faculty members can take a more active role in planning trips for Upstate Escapes," said Carey Backman, assistant director.

To be approved for the $300, guidelines must be met.

"If it’s a student organization, we make sure that they are college-recognized first before accepting the proposal," Backman said. "We make sure that the trip is open to all students and look to see if the trip connects to students’ interests and classroom learning."

Once this information is verified, a bus company is contacted to make sure the dates and times are available and that the tickets will fit into the $300 price range. If not, the organization or faculty member is contacted to make a decision based on additional transportation costs.

Backman makes the initial decision on approval, and if approved, Charles Matthews, director, has final say on which trips are approved.

When a trip is approved for Upstate Escapes, Backman also assists with planning and promotion.

"I coordinate transportation for the sponsoring organization, make sure the trip and its details are posted on the Upstate Escapes website, coordinate ticket sales through the student activities ticket office, help to make contact with the site to be visited, provide up to 50 color fliers to help promote the trip, send out promotional emails, and offer general assistance," Backman said.

While the planning and promoting may take a lot of time, Backman believes assisting with this is almost as important as the trip itself.

"Students can apply planning and event-management skills while having the support of someone in the field, so that important details are not overlooked and the tips are organized, safe, and fun for all," Backman said.

Outside of student organization- and faculty-sponsored events, Upstate Escapes offers trips throughout the year to sporting events, recreational events, plays, musicals, and much more. Just like the grant program trips, these are open to all students.

"We try to keep the costs minimal for students and focus on bringing in some money that offsets costs, but not necessarily recoup all costs," Backman said. "Most trips are in the $5–10, and our most expensive trip is $25."

Backman believes the Upstate Escapes program offers many benefits.

"I think it’s important to offer these trips so that students can develop stronger relationships with their peers and connect to the large community in which they live, " Backman said. "At the same time, they are able to gain a deeper understanding of what they are learning in the classroom, and how this fits into the big picture."