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

Union Spotlight: Theodore S. Stern Student Center at College of Charleston


The College of Charleston was founded in 1770 and is the oldest institution of higher education in South Carolina. The institution is located in downtown Charleston on the South Carolina coast, an area rich in history and known for its beauty. The quality of life has contributed to the city's population of 104,000. Of the 11,607 students attending the College of Charleston, 2,770 live on campus. A large portion of the off-campus population resides in neighborhoods throughout the Charleston peninsula. The College of Charleston was originally founded as a private institution, but was incorporated into the South Carolina State College System in 1970, making it a public institution. In 1974, during College of Charleston President Theodore S. Stern's tenure, the institution built the Student Center.

Currently, the Stern Center is undergoing a two-phase, $6.1 million renovation that is schedule for completion in August. The project began with surveys and focus groups in 2003 and construction began in June 2004. While this initial renovation project will not include expansion of the facility, it will provide interior and exterior improvements that will offer a more welcoming and inviting experience for visitors. Improvements will include an expanded fitness center, the addition of a games room and professional offices, and technology/electrical upgrades for the entire facility. An information center in the main foyer will allow student organizations and departments throughout campus to promote their programs and services, and the redesigned facility will feature more optimal gathering spaces. As for the Stern Center exterior, a new three-story glass atrium will greet visitors as they enter the building, and floor-to-ceiling windows are being incorporated into the design as well.

The facility's previous improvements came during the 2003 academic year with the remodeling of the Stern Center Food Court and the addition of a 1,400 square foot satellite fitness center.

Unique features

The Stern Center has long been a gathering place for students, faculty, and staff. Two of the Stern Center's most interesting amenities include an indoor pool (located on the second floor of the building) and a spacious tiered garden, featuring a fountain filled with fish and turtles. The Olympic-sized pool is the home for the College of Charleston's swim team and is also available for recreational use by members of the college community. The Stern Center Gardens allow students, faculty, and staff members to enjoy dining outdoors, and the garden also serves as a venue for campus programs and is even the setting for an occasional class lecture.

The Gardens and the Food Court are the most popular gathering places for students as these two venues feature food, open spaces to relax, study, and enjoy campus programs. College of Charleston students love Chick-Fil-A and lobbied to have it included when the Food Court was remodeled two years ago. Freshly made sushi by Asian Express also is a big hit.

Students' role

Students are the primary focus of Stern Center and give life to a facility that has seen limited improvements during its lifetime. The current renovation is centered on meeting the evolving needs of the student body and reaching out to students that may not utilize the center on a regular basis.

Helping the Department of Student Life meet the needs of the campus community is a student staff of 28 and two graduate assistants. The student staff members are an essential component to the daily operation of the fitness center and assist the professional staff with room set-ups, reservations, and overall facility management. They also serve as a vital resource for the needs of the College of Charleston student body. The center is able to offer student employees a healthy work environment that promotes the development of leadership and technical skills that students can apply to their academic and cocurricular lives.


Over the years, the Stern Student Center has been host to numerous programs and events. Highlights have included appearances by comedian Steve Martin; author John Grisham; political leaders and activists Sen. John Edwards, Howard Dean, and Al Sharpton; and musicians Art Alexakis of Everclear, Kevin Kinney of Drivn' 'n Cryin', Will Hoge, Dexter Freebish, Bubba Sparxx and DJEZ Rock, and MC Rob Base. In addition to regionally and nationally recognized acts, the Stern Center and Cougar Productions (the campus program board) holds coffee-house programs, poetry slams, and lectures. Recently, the Department of Student Life has begun to establish annual events such as Welcome Week, Cougar Walk (to support the men's and women's basketball teams), and Cougarpalooza (an end-of-the-year celebration prior to finals week).

College of Charleston
Urban, commuter, public, four-year
Full-time school enrollment: 11,607

Theodore S. Stern Student Center
Director or equivalent: Susan H. Payment
Size of the union: 57,000 sq. ft.
Number of floors: 4
Built: 1974
Annual operating budget: $66,600
Total number of student staff:
Part-time: 28
Total number of non-student staff:
Full-time: 6
Part-time: 3