Posted January 29, 2016 by Elizabeth Beltramini 

Editor's Letter: Brick by Brick

Published in the January/February 2016 edition of The Bulletin

My 4-year-old has recently started playing with Legos, a favorite pastime of mine. While she can follow along with the instruction booklet to build airplanes, houses, dinosaurs, or any other suggested project, she much prefers to come up with her own creation. These might involve vehicles with eyeballs, buildings with flowers on top, or animals with lights stuck to their feet. Watching her reminds me of how someone, somewhere must have one day imagined rearview cameras to help people see what is behind their car, rooftop farms to grow vegetables in urban areas, or sneakers with bright lights flashing upon the down step. The opportunity to refine a construct or design something entirely new is meaningful and can make a lasting impact.

This is why one of the significant experiences in the college union professional’s career must be the chance to contribute to a renovation or construction project. At first, the professionals might view examples of architects’ previous work and take teams of students to visit other union facilities that have recently been built or transformed. These references are then enhanced with stakeholder ideas and eventually distilled into a vision for the project. Years later, upon completion, each staff member can look at the building and know they influenced it somehow even if they were not the ones placing each brick and window.

This Bulletin’s Renovation and Construction Showcase seeks to highlight some of that work and also provide guidance for those still in the imagining phase of their own projects. A new “lessons learned” section also shares surprising outcomes, big wins, and slight misses among projects completed in recent years. Featured on this edition’s cover is the University of Oregon’s maker space in the Erb Memorial Union, supporting the idea that everyone, students included, appreciate the pride of accomplishment that comes with building.

Legos are basically plastic blocks, but the limitless experience of assembly is what makes it the “world’s most powerful brand,” according to Forbes magazine. The Lego name is derived from the Danish phrase leg godt or “play well,” a sentiment akin to the Role of the College Union in promoting cocurricular learning and healthy lifestyles among college students. A model of this intention is featured in our article about the “Mind, Body, and Soul” floor of the William Pitt Union at the University of Pittsburgh. The space incorporates meditation, exercise, counselling, and more to enhance students’ holistic wellness and facilitate engagement outside the classroom. Among the spaces included are lounges, which the study in "Intercultural Connection in the Student Union" indicates can provide an environment for international and domestic students to interact in positive ways. Based on the findings, the article offers considerations for those able to purposefully design spaces in their unions so that they might better create a sense of place for users.

Like my daughter, each person has an innate need for fulfillment, often displayed as pride in accomplishment, release from stress, and sense of ownership. For a preschooler, the experience of building with Legos services that need. My hope for union and activities professionals is that you find a similar outlet for your staff and students. Perhaps you can participate in a renovation or construction project, but if not a facility, determine what you can do to build community on campus in 2016.
Elizabeth Beltramini

Elizabeth Beltramini is the Director of Content Curation at ACUI.


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