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Resident Adviser

By Selena Fragassi


We tour four universities to get the full picture of the rooms you can expect when you stay on campus. And NONE of them are like the dorm rooms from your past.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania has a simple rule for its residence halls: “No more than two share a room, no more than two share a bath.” The school has been putting its words into action lately with all of its remodels, including a recent expansion that added 3,000 beds, says Mike Lemasters, executive director of housing, residential living and dining. After all, they are just following the new standard. “The idea of suite living is becoming more and more common as campuses are building or renovating to meet modern needs. You’ll see this room style abundant in residence hall expansions across the country over the next few years.”

´┐╝´┐╝That’s right, the old way of the dorm is out and privacy is in as more and more schools attempt to appeal to incoming students whose tastes have become more...exclusive. “That old, double- loaded corridor with multiple beds and one bathroom for 40 to 50 people is not attractive to the students we are trying to recruit,” continues Lemasters, saying all schools are in the same race right now and have to step up to compete. “If you don’t have what they want, they’ll go someplace else.”

In so doing, universities have also been able to attract discerning conference guests who enjoy the comforts they are used to in
a hotel (and are further persuaded by the savings, the service and the convenience of staying on campus).

Don’t just take our word for it, though. Here, we tour four campuses that are heavy-hitters in the collegiate conference industry—Indiana University of Pennsylvania, University of Brit- ish Columbia, University of California Davis and University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown—to discover just what’s inside the four types of modern residence halls and how each can make guests feel right at home.

First things first. “We do still have some traditional halls left, if a planner requires it for budget purposes or for a visiting camp that needs to house younger guests together,” says Lemasters, noting these are mostly older buildings that have yet to be renovated.

Lina Layiktez, director of conference and event services at the University of California Davis, adds that there is a huge benefit yet for these older styles. “It’s actually easier for a chaperone to keep an eye on their students in these types of accommodations and the students get really excited about that because it’s the picture in their heads of what staying in a college dorm looks like.” At UC Davis, this traditional layout style offers a double room with basic additions such as a dresser, desk and lamp. Restrooms are shared, typically one for men and one for women on each floor. Yet, as most conference departments understand, this style is not for everyone, which is why many are expanding to have more variety to fit the needs of more groups.

Take the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown, for example. The name of the Living/Learning Center has taken on new meaning as the school has come to better understand how students and overnight conference guests prefer to live during their stay. “The spaces here are a bit more upscale than your typical dorm,” says Tammy Barbin, manager of conferences and special events. “They’re slightly larger than you’d expect and each has its own bathroom with a shower.”

A closer look inside and you soon realize how right Barbin is—nothing about these spaces look anything like the dorm room you might remember. Each room has two single beds, two armoires, two desks, cable TV, a refrigerator and microwave, as well as bed linens and towels with daily housekeeping service included. Conference guests who book any of the 403 beds during the summer will also enjoy air conditioning while winter guests can take a trip to the lobby and sit next to the fireplace. But that’s not all—other benefits of the building include a 24-hour fitness center and rec room, 24-hour front desk staff, laundry facilities and a quick trip to the attached conference and meeting rooms in the next building.

UC Davis calls this style “pod living,” and while their layout still has shared restrooms, it’s with less people. “We know adults typically need their space, so for most conference groups, we will book them in these types of shared arrangements or one of our apartments.” Like the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown, UC Davis also offers added perks such as access to the recreation center with state-of-the-art workout facilities, basketball and racquetball courts as well as a jacuzzi and pool. “It’s all part of our complete package.”

Of the six different room types at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, many follow traditional campus-style living, but there is one that Kathy Evanko, director of conference services, likes to call “the Taj Mahal ... this is where two people have their own bedroom, their own bathroom and they share a living room,” she says. Another great benefit of booking a suite at this campus? “We have a full computer room and multipurpose rooms in each suite-style building,” adds her co-worker Lemasters.

It’s a similar setup at the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown. Among the 1,771 beds on campus, in Willow Hall there are 25 apartments, each consisting of four bedrooms connected to a common living area and kitchenette, plus two bathrooms. Each room comes with linens, a desk, dresser and closet, while in the living area, furniture includes a loveseat, two chairs and coffee table. “This option is always great for groups that can and want to house together, but still want some privacy,” says Barbin. “Individuals can retire to their bedrooms at night and lock their door, but they can eat meals together in the kitchenette or socialize in the common living area.”

Also at the campus are a selection of similarly styled lodges with nearly 350 beds and townhouses with 225 additional beds. Soon, the university will unveil a brand-new building, the College Park Apartments, which is undergoing an overhaul right now. “We remodel constantly,” Barbin says, noting the school has a rotating schedule of buildings that get touched so that the school in total is adhering to modern standards.

A growing need to renovate at the University of British Columbia inspired the change to suite-style living. “We had a lot of things that were just not working well,” says Teresa Rempel, director of group conferences and accommodations. Normally the school will just repaint or provide maintenance every year for its 3,600 rooms, but the most recent overhaul was one of their biggest projects to date, taking two years to complete. “We completely gutted the inside of the existing building and changed everything. Our suites now have new kitchens with granite coun- tertops and new furniture, hardwood floors and new bathrooms. All the furniture has been updated, too.” By 2016, the campus anticipates the addition of an entire building of private suites to keep up with growing demand.

But the University of British Columbia doesn’t stop there. They have their own hotel onsite, too. It’s quickly becoming a growing trend at campuses nationwide for one big reason: year-round availability (most of the other rooms profiled here are only available in the summer to accommodate student schedules). The West Coast Suites have all the creature comforts with 47 rooms, “each with free Wi-Fi, a fully-equipped kitchen, an ironing board, in-room safe, and most importantly, Starbucks coffee,” Rempel says of the luxe accommodations.

With so many options, you might think it would be overwhelming to find your home away from home during your stay. Yet the conference departments are more than ready to help you find the right match, based on a number of criteria. “It really depends on the budget, and also the type of client or delegates we are welcoming,” concludes Rempel. For example, if the group is mostly students, out of safety concerns they won’t be booked in any of the residence towers where there are higher balconies. Instead, they’ll room in the junior residences where there are also playing fields and basketball courts that they can enjoy in their free time.

At the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Barbin and her team go through a series of questions with planners to determine the best fit. “We like to get to know what they’ll be doing in the course of a day,” she says, providing examples of some of the questions that might be asked of the planner, including, “Will they have children that are part of the group? Do they need to be centralized near the meeting space or dining? Do they have elderly guests who need special access?”

There are also those that have smaller groups who don’t need to have a specific meeting room, and for that experience, IUP’s Evanko suggests choosing a suite-style room. “Some visiting groups might just use their living room to accomplish their agenda. Rest assured,” she says. “In either case, whatever a plan- ner needs, we can be flexible to their needs.”

That certainly was the experience Sandy Dawson—a planner with Accelerated Christian Education—had when she planned a meeting for 2,000 overnight guests at the university. “With a large conference such as ours, the convenience of being on campus was paramount for our staff. It allowed us to work late into the evenings, without having to travel to our lodging,” she says, noting that in addition to convenience, major factors for choosing the university were also cost savings and the availabil- ity of meals on campus. “We loved the experience so much we are planning to book again for May.”

Beyond modern rooms and cost savings, there are additional benefits afforded by staying on a campus for the duration of your conference. “The number-one benefit is the included meal package,” says Layiktez. Although not all schools offer this as a standard, places like UC Davis provide all-you-can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with your stay. “We have a conference-style dining venue, which means it’s unlike the traditional dining commons where you’d walk through a cafeteria line.” Instead, on the menu are fresh items like Mongolian-style cooking and oven-baked pizza.
At the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown, there is much flexibility with custom menus, too, especially when hosting groups like the National Vegetarian or Vegan Conference.

“Although we may not be able to provide five-star amenities like hotels, we always get great feedback on our five-star service,” says Barbin of the university, a facet that has helped them bring repeat business for 35 years in some cases, such as the International Atmiya Youth Convention 2013, a group of 1,400 that recently stayed on campus. Planner Mehul Thakkar says, “The quality contribution by each and every member on the team was clearly visible through a continued and proactive presence during the moments of need. Such courteousness and patience speaks a lot about the staff and its leadership.” While flattering, Barbin sees that as the daily job of the staff that makes every concerted effort to make guests feel at home.
“The staff here bends over backwards to do anything we can, truly, to make the guests feel welcome from the moment we see them pulling into our circular driveway and are grabbing their bags. We want to make sure they always remember their stay here, for all the right reasons.