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Q&A: Student Housing That Goes Beyond Being a Place to Sleep

The National Center for Educational Statistics data projects that the student population will reach 23 million by 2020. How this quickly growing student population wants to live—and what ultimately creates a vibrant and fiscally successful student residential community—is changing. Partnering with institutions across the country and drawing from the firm’s market-rate residential design expertise, Steinberg Hart is creating innovative housing models for a variety of student types. With projects ranging from freshman living to graduate and family housing, the firm is helping to define how and where the next generation of students will live, learn, and socialize.

We sat down with Kim Patten, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Principal and Director of Student Life, to talk about trends in student housing, the link to student success, and what the future design of student living environments looks like.

Tell us about yourself. What drew you to work on student housing projects?

KP: I have been working on Higher Education projects for the past 15 years. Higher Ed is a fascinating market because of the diversity of project types and the deep-rooted connection to empower individuals to pursue their passions and gain knowledge and understanding of the world.

I had the opportunity to work on my first student housing project 7 years ago and immediately had a new-found love and respect for the intense devotion to student success and student lives that housing professionals bring to campuses. Working with highly respected housing leaders like Cindy Derrico and Tim Trevan, I was able to learn from the best about how operations, programming, management and facilities all work together to provide transformative environments to support students and help them in their academic achievements. I also found that housing professionals have a positive attitude and enjoy their work, which really resonates with my working style. I now continue to develop my knowledge and exploration of ideas through groups like ACUHO-I and SCUP, regular surveying of students and staff, and my own personal research projects.

What does the future of student housing look like?

I think the next evolution in student housing environments, which we are already starting to see, is the integration of some of the more creative aspects of the ACUHO-I 21st Century Project. Living/learning is beginning to resemble the innovative ideas that interdisciplinary learning centers brought to campuses. I now see campuses integrating mixed-use living/learning projects into the heart of their campuses. I look forward to working on more projects that blend traditional academic and living environments into mixed-use student success hubs, offering students opportunities to learn and engage at every opportunity.

What is your advice to institutions who are looking to integrate their academic and living environments more?

Think big and gather the right people. I think campuses are ready to move beyond the traditional thought of academics and housing belonging on opposite sides of campus. Given the research of the impact student housing has on a student’s academic success, it is clear that these two things are connected and can be supportive. My hope is that more institutions can look beyond tradition and bring campus planners, faculty, and housing administrators together to tackle student success holistically.

The Citrus Hall Residences and The Spot Dining Hall at the University of La Verne recently opened. Tell us about how this project contributes to creating a greater sense of community at the campus?

The University of La Verne welcomed freshmen in a new dormitory style housing model that’s supported with ample study, lounge, and communal spaces. Working with a 1:32 RA to student ratio, these freshman get the attention and support needed to be successful and engaged within the housing community and the campus community. Each RA cluster has a wonderfully distinct “wing” within the building, setting up for some fun building-wide competitions and challenges while breaking down the scale of the 400-bed residence hall. There are also some breathtaking views to the mountains just to the north from the living rooms & study rooms on each floor.

Photographer: Lawrence Anderson

Creating a hub of student activity and student life, a new central student quad links the Campus Center and Vista La Verne housing. The La Verne students love attending the outdoor program events, so I’m looking forward to seeing some fun bounce house events and movie nights. The community living room on the ground floor acts a central gathering space for the students to get to know others. It also provides an amenity for residents of the adjacent residence hall to enjoy.

The Spot dining hall is the ground floor anchor to the residences above, creating links from the new student life core back towards the academic core. It will accommodate all of the residential students and provide a wonderful dining opportunity for commuter students, staff and faculty. The expanded dining hall will give the university additional options for fresh, healthy, ready-made food and a more collaborative dining experience.

What philosophies drive your approach to student housing design?

KP: Every student housing project, regardless of its university, location to campus or student demographic should strive for what I call a “Holistic Student Experience”. It’s a bit of my mantra that includes four key drivers in the programming and design approach: Community Engagement, Social Development, Health + Wellness, and Academic Success.

Working together, these four drivers support a well-rounded experience and help keep students from slipping through the cracks. Student housing provides resources and opportunities that are well beyond a “living” space and offer opportunities to fully support a student within their entire academic career.

What’s the role of wellness in student housing design?

KP: At Steinberg Hart, we expect all of our buildings to strive for sustainability goals beyond code standards. This design and process expectation has allowed us to focus more heavily on the creation of healthy spaces within our housing. We look for opportunities to promote exercise, taking the stairs over elevators, access to natural air and daylight, quiet and meditative spaces, opportunities for student support, and ease of access to healthy food options.

Ultimately, what impact does student housing design have on a student’s success?

KP: The impact of a close-knit community, supportive RAs and great housing administration can bring to an individual’s experience is unparalleled. Our designs always need to work in tandem with the institution’s mission and operational style. When done right and in close partnership, these facilities can create environments that holistically impact a students’ emotional, physical, and academic well-being. Students that feel safe, supported, and part of a community experience less anxiety and isolation. When a student has this wonderful support network, they are able to clearly focus on their primary objective, which is their education. It’s extremely rewarding for us to be able to play a small role in the success of the next generation.

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