After living on campus for a year or two, students discover which dorms have the nicest rooms, the best location and the tastiest food, and students clamber for rooms in the most sought-after dorms. It’s very likely that all of the hoopla surrounding the remodeling of Snyder-Phillips drew the attention of the dorm-dwellers, and Ngan Kim Nguyen knew exactly what she was doing when she signed up for a room in the highly-advertised pair of dorms. Nguyen is a political theory junior and lives on the third floor of Phillips hall in a single. She’s hopped around campus, living in both Gilchrist and Case halls, but settled on the revamped Snyder-Phillips for her third year in the dorms. “I like the old feel and architecture of these buildings, and I like the new interior,” Nguyen said.
[d1] The charm of the hall’s old architecture meeting the updated interior is the result of a year of extensive renovations. It’s doubtful any student didn’t notice the intense construction taking place last year, and after a few semesters’ worth of switching routes to classes in order to avoid the area completely, students are now welcome in the historic part of campus. Snyder-Phillips hall has re-opened and is now home to the new Residential College of Arts and Humanities – and as a bonus, it also houses a fancy new cafeteria called The Gallery.
The Residential College of Arts and Humanities (RCAH) is the newest living-learning program on MSU’s campus. Living-learning programs house students with similar majors together in one dormitory. Classrooms, faculty offices and labs are also contained in the building where students live. “Students feel positive about living-learning programs,” said Cindy Helman, the coordinator of Living Learning Programs. “They’re surrounded by people with the same interests.”
In 2006, 1,940 freshmen students, or about one-third of the total freshman class, were in living-learning programs, between the Lyman Briggs College of natural sciences and James Madison College of social science, the oldest residential programs at MSU. “[These programs] are key for undergraduate education, especially in large schools,” Helman said. Because the students in these dorms share majors and a living space, they also often share time together in extra-curricular activities, creating a strong base for relationships. For some, these programs help students find their niche at MSU, which can often be challenging due to the size of the university.
Brandon Bourdganis, an international and social relations sophomore in James Madison, benefits from the academic support. “It’s nice because the intellectual thought continues from the classroom to where you live,” he said.
[steve1]Because a living-learning option is attractive to so many, it is something valuable to East Lansing that high school students seriously consider when applying to colleges. “Students are drawn to Lyman Briggs and James Madison because they want to be doctors or lawyers, but for a long time, there was no force like that for the arts and humanities,” said RCAH Dean Steve Esquith. Prospective students in the humanities can now look to RCAH the same way students interested in science and politics have looked to Lyman Briggs and James Madison for years. RCAH, along with smaller programs such as ROSES for engineering students and BROAD for business majors have broadened MSU’s scope for living-learning options. The ROSES, or Residential Option for Science and Engineering, was formed in 1993, and its students are housed in Bailey Hall. BROAD, within the Eli Broad College of Business, is a more recent living-learning program that was formed in 2006. Students are accepted to the BROAD program on an invitation-only basis and are housed in Shaw Hall.
Much of the initial push for this project came on behalf of the administration. In her 2004 manifesto, “Realizing the Vision,” President Lou Anna K. Simon recommended creating another residential option for arts and humanities students when she was serving as the provost. “Strengthening the degree-oriented residential options offers the promise of attracting and engaging a wider range of students, including high-ability students from outside Michigan,” Simon wrote. Attracting more students, especially those from out of state, is a necessary step in expanding the university’s reach and reputation.
Enter: Snyder-Phillips. The building’s need for renovation and the university’s need for a location for the new residential college led Snyder-Phillips to be the logical answer for the new home of the RCAH.
The dorms are facing more competition from non-dorm housing options, leading to an exodus of upperclassmen off-campus. “We can’t be complacent,” said Paul Goldblatt, director of Residence Life. “We need to stay on top of trends and focus on those things that will keep students on campus.” But what will keep students on campus when the plethora of apartments, condominiums and houses behind Grand River Avenue seems so appealing? Installing WiFi in residence halls, offering more single-person rooms and creating an overall feeling that is more like an apartment and less like a dorm could be the answer.
Well…Snyder-Phillips has WiFi. The third floor of each building is strictly singles. There’s even a coffee shop outside the cafe. [phil1]
The updated building is unfinished as of now, with only living areas and the dining room in use, but when it is complete, it will contain classrooms, faculty offices, and even an art gallery. The closest thing to art in students’ houses off-campus is an intricately designed beer pong table at a frat house or a mural of red and orange flames at a co-op.
Although much off-campus housing may lack artistic touches, students are able to avoid some of the mysterious cuisine that appears in campus cafeterias. However, it seems Snyder-Phillips has taken care of this woe as well. “I like terming it a restaurant, not a dining cafeteria,” Dining Services Manager Kurt Kwiatkowski said. With its six dining choices, from “The Berg,” which offers gourmet-style salads, to “Latitudes,” serving different styles of world cuisine, students have more choices when it comes to eating in the dorms. The cafeteria, named the Gallery, is focused on following trends in food preparation. “We’re trying fresher products, looking at anything from Michigan we can get,” Kwiatkowski said. “Entrée salads are (very popular).”
The Gallery’s motto is “experience the art of food,” and one of its aims is to show students about what good food is. “One of my goals is food education,” Kwiatkowski said. “Let’s show them crème brulée and let them taste it.” And students seem to be responding well to this specialty treatment, coming out of the woodwork all over campus to try out the new dining experience. “Everything is very, very positive,” said Kwiatkowski. ‘Students don’t mind waiting for the food. We have people living in Brody coming out here two or three times a day … the first week we were open, we were getting about 1,000 students for lunch and dinner from other residence halls.”
Increasingly, students that live off-campus are choosing to not eat in the dorm cafeterias. However, the promises of many choices and late hours at the Gallery are bringing non-residents back into the cafeterias. “I’ve noticed a lot of people from off-campus paying for their meals,” said finance junior Kristina Cowden, a member of the Gallery’s kitchen staff. Drawing the interest of students all across campus is the result of a combination of things. “I like it here because it’s high-class; the set-up and atmosphere are really nice,” English sophomore Goldie Currie said, who travels the short distance from Mason Hall to eat at the Gallery.
“Everything here is hot – it’s made just for you,” Cowden said. “It’s nicer and it’s what you’d expect from a school like MSU.” With higher tuition and living prices, students and their families are counting on more from the university. The duo of the Gallery and RCAH are showing just how far that money can go.
Although the remodeled dormitories are getting a lot of attention from students, there are students who feel the whole set-up is a bit too fancy. Sometimes students want to grab a quick bite in between classes, and the wait required for many of the dining options might be too much. Sometimes, students just want a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, not a three-cheese panini sandwich with gazpacho. “There’s really not that much variety,” Nguyen said. “I mean, there are more stands, but most of them serve the same thing all the time. In Case (Hall), virtually everything is fried, and I liked that. It was a lot of comfort food.”
Another downfall to the living-learning option is the high probability these students may form a sort of “bubble” community. It also has the potential to breed a lot of cliques within the college. This could be problematic if students share similar academic schedules. Bourdganis has noticed some of the negative aspects of living together with his James Madison peers. “[Living in Case] gets really stressful around midterms,” he said. “It’s stressful because you have something like 100 people stressing out about the same thing.” [phil2]
Besides bringing Snyder-Phillips into the 21st century, the new residential option helps individual students do well in classes. By having the students live in the same building as the faculty offices, an open dialogue between students and instructors is enabled. RCAH faculty also is working with the new building to personalize students’ university experiences. Ideas such as language tables in the Gallery, where students can gather with a language instructor, and a poetry center in Snyder-Phillips Hall are in the works.
If the new Snyder-Phillips is any indication, the future of dorm life looks exciting. The meshing of academics and living is beneficial to students, both academically and socially. “Students retain their relationships with faculty and neighbors after they leave the programs,” said Helman. If the university keeps evolving by expanding and integrating residential options and by paying attention to detail in dining areas, students will leave college with more than a degree – they’ll leave with a truly personalized college experience.

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