With the start of the 2021 school year, UO has revealed a new and revolutionary student welcome center inside Unthank Hall. Unthank has been under construction for around a year and is a hybrid of a dorm, dining hall and welcome center for students. The new building boasts eateries like Bullseye Taco, Drake's Deli and a community kitchen, as well as other amenities. The student welcome center, which is located on the ground floor, is designed to show prospective students the best of what UO has to offer.
Although UO has a student welcome center in Ford Alumni Center, this was built completely from scratch. The team building it, which contained Lauren Stanfield, Cora Bennett, Michael Luna and others, drew inspiration from other student welcome centers recently built around the country.
“One of those places was the University of Georgia, which is more traditional than UO,” vice president of student services Roger Thompson said. The University of Georgia recommended that the UO scouts look in the college football hall of fame instead. “Some of the technology that we put in the student center came out of a concept that our team saw at the college football hall of fame, not in any student welcome center,” Thompson said.
Everyone on the construction team for the Welcome Center brought their own skills to the table. Luna is a recent graduate of UO who now works for the University. “When he was a student, he went through the Disney experience and interned with them,” Thompson said. “So he had a lot of ideas about how to present things and stage them so that visitors would like them.” The team even created four different aromas that viewers smell when they come through the building that sparks feelings of warmth, which came from a concept that Disney uses.
“I cannot tell you how proud I am of this team,” Thompson said. “I set very high expectations for what the student welcome center would be. Some might be intimidated to tell a small group ‘I want it to be the best in the country’ because that’s what the University of Oregon deserves, and what they created far exceeds any expectation I had.”
Thompson explained that the entire center was created to make students feel at home. The first thing a visitor sees when they walk in is a mural of the state of Oregon. And, when they go through the second set of doors, they wipe their feet on a mat that reads “Welcome Home.” The team took their time with meticulous details, like making the seats extra big in the theater and adding fun, unique decorations to each of the four bathrooms, so that everyone who visits is as comfortable as possible. “Everything in the facility is to welcome students home,” Thompson said.
The location of the welcome center in Unthank is not a coincidence. Thompson said that its location in a residence hall creates a feeling of home and he also thinks the proximity to the dining hall is an advantage. “We think students will come, and they’ll explore around the student welcome center. They’ll go out on their 9 a.m. tour, they’ll come back and they’re gonna want to eat at the Pacific Northwest Marketplace,” Thompson said. “We hope by the end of that experience they’re ready to be a duck.”
Cutting-edge technology and gadgets fill the welcome center. There’s a row of lockers with both fixed and video displays and a Harry-Potter-inspired enchanted book that students can flip through. “The pages are the same material as a movie screen at an AMC theater, so we can project images onto the book that then come alive,” Thompson said. There’s also a spot for students to write postcards, a map to mark where they’re from and more.
Sample residence hall rooms are also featured in the new welcome center. There are examples from Global Scholars Hall, Justice Bean and Unthank. This provides students with more information than they previously had because tours typically only visit one residence hall; it also cuts out the awkward experience of touring through someone’s home. “We don’t have to take people through residence halls and interrupt people where they live,” Thompson said. “That’s always bothered me.”
Thompson and his team have labored over creating the center. “Everything in the center is to get people talking about the University of Oregon,” Thompson said, “even the wallpaper is subtly ducks flying.”