Things are only impossible until they’re not.
– Jean-Luc Picard
Volume 73 | Issue 2
March 2005

Union Spotlight: Student Center at St. Lawrence University


For 10 years, discussion to have a union at the center of the St. Lawrence University campus existed. Real planning and financial commitment happened from 1999 until 2002 when the trustees and president supported building the new facility. The needs of students and the decision for a centrally located space were apparent as the student population increasingly became more engaged on campus. The community needed to be able to come together in a variety of ways in one location. Research was completed to determine what the needs were and to assess the trends across the United States in unions on campuses like St. Lawrence University.

This discussion and planning evolved into what is now the Student Center. The design and features mirror aspects of other buildings on campus with a feel for natural colors and textures within it that reflect the location of campus near the Adirondack mountains and the St. Lawrence river valley. The Student Center now gives the community a space to meet, eat, and play as well as learn, express, and take action on issues in a public and intentional way.

Unique features

The Student Center boasts a grand entryway with an open view of the entire building including a three-story stone chimney with two working fireplaces around which campus community members like to relax or study. The many large windows allow for views of the surrounding landscape, including the foothills of the mountains in the distance. The large comfortable furniture and quiet nooks in a variety of places throughout the building provide ample opportunity for studying, chats, or programs.

With the opening of the new center, the university gained meeting room and social space. The facility includes a multipurpose room, several meeting spaces, a campus living room, two television lounges, an information center, a games area, a coffee shop, a student mailroom, Student Financial Services, a bank branch, and student organization offices including the student newspaper, yearbook, student government, and the student programming board.

Students' role

Students were involved throughout the planning process through committees that designed the building with architects, university staff, and the board of trustees. When the building was under construction and close to completion, groups of students came through the space to get a sense of what it would be like completed. Students also gave input on color schemes and furniture styles as well as layouts with furniture placement.

Now, student organizations that once were separated in different buildings across campus can come together to plan events and discuss campus issues. Student Center staff members work closely with the student government association, called the Thelomathesian Society, and the student programming board, called the Association for Campus Entertainment. Trained student staffs include building managers, sound technicians (for programming set-ups), and information desk workers. Additionally, a student programming board schedules campus entertainment and events in collaboration with other student organizations.


Student entertainment tends to be the most popular-from student bands and a cappella groups to poetry slams and karaoke. Comedians and other musical acts, from Latin jazz to pop rock performances, also are well attended. Additionally the Student Center has been host to the annual festival of science with student poster presentations displayed around the atrium as well as many multilevel receptions for family weekend, commencement and reunions. The open design allows for awareness campaigns including sections of the AIDS memorial quilt and the Clothesline Project.

St. Lawrence University
Private, residential, rural, four-year
Full-time enrollment: 2,000

Student Center

Director: Kate McCaffrey
Size of the Union: 60,000 sq. ft.
Number of floors: 3
built: 2002-04
Annual operating budget: $100,000
Total number of student staff:
Part-time: 35
Total number of nonstudent staff:
Full-time: 4