Student Activity Center Trends

Editor’s Note: This article is provided in conjunction with the Association of College Unions, International (ACUI). ACUI’s annual convention is scheduled for March 17-20 in Albuquerque, N.M. For more information, visit the organization’s Website at .

Since opening in 1964, the Oglesby Union at Florida State University in Tallahassee has enjoyed a premier location at the crossroads between the east and west sides of campus. Between 14,000 and 20,000 people pass through the union courtyards on any given weekday. The original physical plant has had one major renovation and expansion project ($9 million) completed in 1988; and several minor ones since that time (each between $2 and $3 million).

A satellite facility, the Student Life Building, opened in 2000, which provided additional space for student groups, meeting rooms, a cyber café and a state-of-the-art movie theater. As the need for expansion became apparent through the years, students and staff worked together to assess the cutting edge of trends and attempted to stay ahead of the movement through researching and understanding the culture of the students at Florida State. The Union, as a part of the Division of Student Affairs, is committed to continuing advocacy of a student-centered campus.

What Are Students Doing?

Today’s students are great communicators. They are talking on their cell phones with friends, family and others anywhere, anytime. Students communicate with us more frequently than in the past because e-mail makes it so convenient.

Students also are technologically oriented in their entertainment habits. Because of their exposure to the world through media, they have little need for grass roots entertainment. Student activities centers must develop a careful mix of old and new approaches to reach students. The “old” ensures that face-to-face interaction is a part of the mix; the use of “new” tools and approaches keeps them interested.

Today’s students have grown up with games that are far more high tech than previous generations. Rather than playing physical team sports, many of them have grown up on Nintendo at their local video arcade or Sega and PlayStation on their home game systems. The intergenerational bonding that can be a part of physical sports doesn’t tend to exist with the ever-evolving world of computer games because the games change so quickly. The Internet allows social interaction to take place at enormous distances and with people they’ve never met eye-to-eye. The constant and rapid changes in computers have made students change-oriented and hungry for the latest innovations.

Commercial innovations in movie theaters have raised students’ expectations as far as films go. Sound, in terms of format (Dolby Digital, DTS, etc.), number of channels and theater configuration, is significantly improved.

Lest you think that students have sold out entirely to the world of high tech, the staff at Florida State observes students “constantly surrounded by their friends.” They participate in events that bring groups of students together, like movies, bowling, late night breakfasts, outdoor concerts and dances. There has also been an increase in student group performances, like cultural festivals, cultural dinners and dance troupe performances.

Another trend recognized about our students is that they are accustomed to immediate gratification -- right here, right now, no waiting, get it to go. They are accustomed to late night hours, like 24-hour copy service, 24-hour McDonald’s, late night dancing and 24-hour access to money at ATMs. They ask: Why can’t I make my reservation for a meeting in the Union at 3 a.m. when I am thinking about it?

How Should the Facilities Change to Accommodate the Activities?

Facilities should provide for “tickling the fancy” of the tech-savvy student. The technical capabilities of student activity facilities are increasing on our campus. Through this improvement, we see increasing access for the student both in person and on the Web. Students today automatically assume that all information out there in the world is, or should be, accessible by the Internet. When they cannot get the information they want this way, students perceive the university or department as inept.

Managed by the Academic Computer Network Services (ACNS) on campus, the computer lab in the Union is a 24-hour operation. It provides a secure working environment with about 85 computers and staff monitors to assist around the clock.

In the new satellite facility, the Student Life Building, we have a 386-capacity movie theater that exceeds many commercial specifications. The theater has three amplifiers rather than the usual one or two and 20 surround speakers rather than the usual six to eight. It has multimedia presentation capabilities, like DVD, videotape, VHS, Beta and the Internet, as well as film. In the facility, students have access to state-of-the-art cyber café computers that are specifically designed for the memory-intensive, graphics-oriented needs of gaming. Additionally, the facility has high-speed network T3 connections that allow on-line gaming of very complex games.

Facilities should be designed with spaces that promote “direct communication -- direct contact” among students. We have established a “Student Activities Center” on the third floor of the Union that is a place for students to gather as a group to work, hang out and be social. Staff and students are assigned to work in the facility. Students in the organizations housed in the Center have 24-hour access via a swipe card entry system. Their workstations are equipped with computers and telephones. The area has mailboxes, copy machines, printers, group work areas, access to central calendar of events and more. The center is equipped for both wired and wireless technology.

The bowling center in the Union has changed with the times as well. It is equipped with automatic scoring machines that provide for scoring games in eight languages, cosmic bowling with complementary cosmic carpeting and masking units, synthetic lane beds, top-of-the line equipment for maintaining the lanes and wheelchair accessibility for bowling.

Students have a number of ways to get involved “hands on” at the Union, whether it’s throwing a clay pot in a pottery class or exhibiting one’s art work in the Oglesby Gallery. If music is one’s thing, the Club Downunder provides a venue for performance. It may be jamming on the “Blues Jam Night” in the club or performing during a karaoke night. Individuals or groups find opportunities to perform and to join with their peers in having fun.

Nancy A. Turner is director of Oglesby Union at Florida State University in Tallahassee.