Celebrating the New Emory Student Center

Ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrates Emory's new campus hub, which has earned the highest-possible rating for environmental sustainability

Emory recently celebrated the opening of their new student center. Photo by Kay Hinton.

The Emory Student Center pulsed with music, lights and laughter, as the campus community came together Wednesday, Sept. 11, for a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the innovative new space.

Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and Emory Board of Trustees representatives — as well as members of the wider community — mingled about The Commons for an event that Emory President Claire E. Sterk described as “the grand opening of a grand place.”

While it serves as a resource to the entire campus community, the new facility showcases an array of student-centered features and services, including a new food center, convenience store, coffee shop and café, gaming and recreation lounge and open spaces for studying, collaboration and engagement.

At about 117,000 square feet, it’s significantly larger than its predecessor, the Dobbs University Center (DUC), which offered about 70,000 square feet of space. It’s also won recognition as a showcase of sustainability, earning the university’s first LEED “platinum” rating from the U.S. Green Building Council — the highest possible LEED rating, making it the most energy-efficient building at Emory.

From its wide, airy interiors and an abundance of natural light to its color schemes and furnishings, the vision for the three-story facility was shaped by the input of Emory students, who turned out in full force to celebrate the new space with food, free giveaways and fun activities, including a slow-motion video booth, “Hug a Coke” machine and Wonderful Wednesday events on the plaza.

‘Something for everybody’

Speaking before the enthusiastic crowd, Sterk explained that before the 2019 fall semester began, she had already witnessed the dynamic drawing power of the new center “as a place that really draws people in.” Sterk described taking time herself to explore its many nooks and corners — places to come together, places to be alone, “something for everybody,” she said.

Rising in the footprint of the former DUC, the very location of the new student center has drawn in students for decades, “almost like a sacred space on the Atlanta campus,” Sterk said.

It was in 1927 that Emory opened its first campus dining hall, she said. In 1950, the AMUC (Alumni Memorial University Center) was built to honor members of the Emory community whose lives were lost at war. In 1985, that facility was incorporated within the DUC, named to honor Atlanta businessman and philanthropist R. Howard Dobbs Jr., 27C 76H, a former member of the Emory Board of Trustees.

Today, the AMUC is again exposed to the world, its front façade facing the sprawling open-air plaza across from the Emory Student Center, which Sterk says has come to represent a symbol of our community: “a community now, but also a community into the future.”

And she thanked Emory students for allowing the wider community to share in it. “I hope that everyone will take advantage of this place, and that you will use it,” Sterk said. “Wherever there is a place where students are, that’s a place where memories are being created.”

“You don’t have to be a student to create those memories,” she added.

Transforming community

A decade in the visioning, planning and construction, the Emory Student Center “is actually transforming our community with intentional design and use of space,” said Emory trustee Teresa Rivero, 85Ox 87B 93MPH, who chairs the Board of Trustees’ Campus Life Committee.

Speaking to the collective crowd, Rivero described the facility as both “a gathering space for what makes up the Emory family,” as well as an anchoring, gathering place for students — a space that welcomes all students in the spirit of One Emory.

“It’s so much more than a structure,” she said. “It’s our place. It’s Emory’s place.”

None of it would have been possible without “the hard and tireless commitment of so many people that are in this room, in our community and out there,” she added, expressing deep appreciation on behalf of the Emory Board of Trustees and donors who supported the project.

Rivero acknowledged the contributions of everyone involved in the student center’s planning and construction, including, among many partners, Duda|Paine Architects and Holder Construction Company, IMEG Corp, Brightview Landscape and Development and “a special shout-out to Emory Campus Services,” which provided support for the project from within virtually every department.

Emory junior Lori Steffel, vice president of the Emory Student Government Association, told celebrants that she sees the new student center offering even more opportunities for community engagement.

“A heartbeat on campus, a place of life — that’s what the student center has come to be already for myself and so many others … a place where I eat, where I meet and where I study — kind of the three core things you do as a college student,” Steffel said.

“I really do feel this is a place where ideas will be shared, where friendships are formed, where differences resolved and where memories made,” she added. “I cannot wait to watch the Emory community grow and flourish here for years to come.”

The reviews are in

As students gathered for the Emory Student Center celebration, here’s what they had to say about their new community hub:

Pilar Rubio Beltran, Madrid, Spain, sophomore studying chemistry in the dual engineering program with Emory/Georgia Tech

“I like all the natural light, which means it’s using a lot less energy. It makes me happier to study here than in my room, because there is so much more light. It makes me feel like I’m outside.”

Zack Severino, Portland, Oregon, sophomore studying computer science

“I think it’s just amazing. When I first came to visit campus, to see it going from an empty lot to a new building has been an amazing transformation. It’s a huge difference from what we had. It means a lot to students, it makes you want to come study here. I live in Few (Hall), and for the sophomore and freshman halls, it’s so convenient having a convenience store on campus.”

Gaige Elms, New York, New York, sophomore studying psychology

“I really like it. The food service is great and I love that the swim team can come sit together and eat after practice. It’s a wonderful place to come study and meet up with friends for lunch. Plus it’s closer to my dorm.”

Abdullah Muzeyen, Decatur, Georgia, junior studying chemistry

“It’s great. I love it, especially the openness and the plethora of study spaces.”

Joan Zhang, New York, New York, senior studying economics and math

“I really like all the work space and the fact that it’s bright and open.”

Emily Baker, Nashville, Tennessee, senior studying biology

“Seniors all remember the old space and the months of demolition and construction. This was worth the wait, definitely a step up. I live off campus, so it’s nice to have a place on campus to hang out and study during the day.”

The new Emory Student Center has earned the university’s first platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, a designation that represents the pinnacle of energy efficiency and sustainability practices in building design and construction.

LEED is a green-building certification program that has become a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement, promoting a framework to create healthy, efficient, cost-saving green buildings.

Buildings pursuing LEED certification earn points across several categories such as location and transportation, water efficiency, sustainability, materials and resources, energy and atmosphere, indoor environmental quality, innovation and more. Based on the number of points achieved, a project then earns one of four LEED rating levels: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum.

Receiving a platinum status recognizes Emory’s commitment to energy and resource-efficient construction practices that help reduce stress on the environment, says Ciannat Howett, director of Emory Sustainability Initiatives.

With a visible location in the heart of campus, “it’s especially exciting to see the Emory Student Center recognized as a model for healthy and responsible living in the 21st century, a teaching tool for students to learn about green building design and a statement of Emory’s commitment to a more sustainable campus and community,” Howett says.

“The student center is an important addition to Emory’s portfolio of over 3 million gross square feet of certified green building space, solidifying Emory’s place as a national leader in sustainable building design,” she adds.

Considered the most energy efficient building on the Atlanta campus, the student center boasts a range of innovative features, including the university’s first foray into geothermal technology for heating and cooling, roof-top solar panels to heat water and LED lighting that is triggered by occupancy sensors.

Earning a LEED platinum certification is a remarkable achievement for any institution, according to Matthew Early, outgoing vice president of the Division of Campus Services, who compares it to “receiving a perfect score on your SATs.”

The student center project also helped establish a new standard in campus building planning, working with a third party vendor, Atlanta-based design firm Pattern r+d, during the design process to model and track energy efficiencies — a practice that will be used with other campus construction moving forward, adds Early.

He also acknowledged the campus-wide teamwork that went into the project, which included individuals throughout the Division of Campus Services, the Division of Campus Life, Emory Sustainability Initiatives, student groups and executive leadership — “an impressive group of people who put a lot of time and effort into doing the right thing.”

ABOUT THIS STORY: Written by Kimber Williams.

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