Watching throngs of students walk up the hill from Merner Field House and the Res/Rec Center every morning, juggling two or three on-campus events nearly every evening, I had a number of “aha” moments this April. Something was different from the 19 previous springs that Benna and I have been privileged to live on North Central’s campus. Certainly the more than 250 students living in the Res/Rec Center is a part of it. They’ve changed the foot traffic pattern of the campus. But as a number of articles in this issue of North Central Now make clear, what I was feeling and experiencing was much more than that.
Near the end of the Self-Study Report produced for the College’s reaccreditation review by the Higher Learning Commission, a few paragraphs were inserted at the last minute. I think they capture what my “ahas” were all about better than any words I can add here:
“The Campus Atmosphere. In reviewing preliminary drafts of this Self-Study, faculty and staff members alike commented that something important was missing from the report—a significant change in the ‘feel,’ the ‘atmosphere of the campus’ over the past decade. While such comments were impressionistic and idiosyncratic, as soon as they were made, others nodded their heads in agreement, citing ‘the incredible moment when the Chicago Symphony helped to open the Wentz Concert Hall, and you realized this was happening here’; the dramatic growth in attendance at football games in the fall; the dozens and dozens of speeches and concerts and plays and other events over the course of the year that bring out big crowds; and ‘stopping by the Cage in WAC (Harold and Eva White Activities Center) at 10 o’clock on a weeknight and then the Library and finding them both full of students.’
“There has been a fundamental change in the atmosphere on North Central’s campus over the past decade—creating a much more engaged student community, which shows how it values the services the College provides by ‘showing up.’ The change is grounded in the fundamental decision to grow the undergraduate residential population over the past 10 years, and all of the steps taken to make that happen. With that growth has come a ‘critical mass’ to support extracurricular, service, cultural, athletic and academic activities where in previous decades support and involvement was more hit and miss or not present at all.
“The impact of new and inviting gathering spaces—the Rolland Center Boilerhouse Café, the renovated Cage, the new study rooms in Oesterle Library, the plazas adjacent to Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium and Old Main—the introduction of numerous new programs from Koten Chapel on the north end of campus to study tables in the dining hall to athletic and cultural offerings on the south end…all have played a part, functioning in tandem with the increase in the undergraduate residential population to transform the feel of the College from a ‘commuter campus that shuts down on weekends’ to a lively, 24/7 community.
“Three small, diverse examples of this change not highlighted in the Self-Study were mentioned in the faculty-staff discussion. One was the decision of the College in 2006 to invest in reconstituting a student pep band—which has now become a ubiquitous presence at campus events. A second was the partnership entered into with a local bookstore in 2006, facilitated by the opening of attractive new venues, that has brought dozens of nationally prominent speakers to campus, from Ted Turner and Tom Brokaw to Madeleine Albright, Barbara Walters and the late Tim Russert. Finally, and almost inadvertently, the leasing of remote parking space one mile from campus in 2008, taking more than 150 cars of resident students off campus in fall 2009—part of the College’s commitment to sustainability—has made the cost/benefit equation of many students to go off campus for entertainment and diversion different in 2009 from what it was in 1999, more of a last resort than a first alternative.
“Together, all of these developments add up to a very different college community—one that is far more engaged, in every sense—than the campus as it entered the 21st century.”
As you read in this magazine about a campus that has never been more alive and engaged—in everything from student research to intramurals to intercollegiate competition to student productions to world-class artists and speakers—I hope you will note the extended Homecoming celebration being planned for October 21-24, starting with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and ending with Frankie Valli, kicking off two years of special programming associated with the College’s Sesquicentennial. And I hope you will quickly make plans to be here, so you too can engage in all the fun.
Harold R. Wilde
North Central NOW Spring 2010