August 28, 2003

North Campus Evolves

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As this year’s freshman class floods into their new North Campus home, they will find a sprawling undergraduate community. This home will provide them with a place to sleep, eat, study, work and play during their first year on campus. Yet just three years ago, much of what students will find and experience on North today had yet to be created.

Prior to the implementation of the North Campus Residential Initiative (NCRI) in 2001, there had been no comparable overhaul of student housing for decades. “Many [people] have made recommendations for small enhancements and improvements, but there [had] been no major changes to the housing program since the late 60’s,” said Jean Resse, residential initiative project leader. “When former President Hunter Rawlings arrived at Cornell [in 1995], he made undergraduate education, including the residential experience, one of his top priorities.”

Rawlings and the faculty began to organize planning committees, focus groups and student surveys to help shape their plans for the overhaul. Foremost among the goals of the NCRI was a common residential experience for all freshmen, as well as a strengthened connection to both their class and the university as a whole.

“[The goal] was to provide a residential environment in which students can successfully pursue their academic studies — linking the academic with the non-academic lives of students,” said Don King, campus life director of community development.

Six years and $65 million later, the new North Campus made its debut, complete with three new buildings, extensive residential programming and an experimental freshman reading program. Most importantly, the expanded dorms and facilities housed the entire freshman class, the first time all first-year students had been brought together in one location. With the exception of program houses, upperclassmen migrated to the Class Halls and Gothics of West Campus.

“It has been a work in progress. The overall results have been positive,” King said. “First year students feel a sense of unity with having everyone from the class have some similar experiences and learning from one another.”

Although several surveys have been conducted regarding student opinion of undergraduate housing, the information has yet to be compiled into a comprehensive report. Planners have, however, used some of the preliminary findings to help guide them in the now-underway West Campus Residential Initiative (WCRI). “We focused attention immediately on some of the results from the questions that were targeted to help with planning for … West Campus,” said survey organizer Michael Matier.

While hard data on the freshman experience may have yet to materialize, new students seem generally happy with the changes wrought by the NCRI, even when it means crowding a few more freshmen into a relatively small space.

“I was worried that my triple would be really cramped, but I’m actually liking living [there] because I have two friends who I can hang out with and it’s a good way of meeting people. It’s better than being in a single,” said Matthew Haberland ’07, who lives in Dickson Hall.

Students also expressed satisfaction with North’s facilities, many of which were either built or updated during the initiative. “It’s good food,” said Haberland, regarding North Star dining hall. “It’s easy because it’s mostly freshman there and they’re all in the same boat you are. There aren’t any upperclassmen cliques so you can sit at whatever table you want, and if you’re not with friends already you can make some new ones.”

Students felt that the overall benefits of living with their classmates were significant enough to outweigh the possible downsides. “I think it’s a really good idea that they have all of the freshman together,” said Branden Robinson ’07. “It allows [us] to get to know each other better, at least in the first week of orientation, then when the school year starts you have a better idea of who your classmates really are.”

Still, some of the students felt North could benefit from a few minor adjustments.

“They should put guys in Balch,” said Dan Castle ’07.

Archived article by Jeff Sickelco