Texas Wesleyan University President Fred Slabach believes student engagement outside the classroom is paramount to ensuring those students graduate. That’s why he’s so excited about the Nick and Lou Martin University Center.
The university officially cut the ribbon on the 44,000-square foot, $20 million new building Tuesday, but students have been using the facility all semester.
Along with new dining options — three new quick dining offerings plus Starbucks give students options away from the campus cafeteria — the new center has spaces for current and potential students, employees and alumni.
Sam Lorenza, a senior at Texas Wesleyan, said he goes to the university center almost every day, if not to eat then to use the game room or study lounge. There’s also a new ballroom, admissions office, bookstore, career services office, student government chambers and meeting room for student organizations.
Daunte Watson, a junior, said it helps bring the campus into the 21st century.
“It bridges the gap between the modern and historical parts of campus,” Watson said.
He, Lorenza and Akeem White, another junior, mostly come to the student center to eat and hang out with friends.
Piano and music history professor Ilka Araujo said that while the new food options are great and hopes they’ll give the campus cafeteria some competition, she’s most excited when she walks into the university center and sees students talking or hanging out in the game room or study lounge.
“It’s also a great opportunity to attract new students,” Araujo said. “A place to centralize students and keep them engaged on campus. ... It looks like there are certainly more students on campus. It feels like it belongs here.”
For commuter students like freshman Charles Dorsett and senior Alan Avellaro, the center gives them a place to stay after class ends.
Avellaro used to go directly home after class, but now he has a place to meet new people, make friends and play ping pong or Xbox.
“It’s a place for me to have fun and hang out with friends,” Avellaro said. “It’s not really good for studying for me because there’s always so much going on, but there are people who study here too.”
Dorsett said he also doesn’t study there because there’s too much to distract him. But it does keep him engaged while he’s on campus.
“If this place weren’t here I would just go from the parking lot to class and then back to the parking lot,” Dorsett said.
Ron Ballard, former dean of Science and Humanities, said the benefits go beyond student engagement. It makes the university more visible to the public, gives it a way to engage students and the community and opens doors to more events on campus.
“It gives the community energy,” Ballard said. “It centers the campus and gives the students a place to come together.”
Alumni meetings, campus events and presentations can now be held in the university center’s ballroom on the second floor. There’s a large foyer where tables and refreshments can be set up and two balconies nearby where anyone visiting the center can get fresh air and sip their coffee.
Beverly Powell, Democratic state senator for District 10 and a Texas Wesleyan alumna, said the center is physical proof of the university’s progress.
Student Government Association President Alyssa Hutchinson called it a “dream come true.”
The project was announced in February 2016, with Nick and Lou Martin starting off the campaign to raise the $20 million.
Slabach said the previous student center, a small space next to the campus gym, was insufficient for the university.
After the Martins’ support was announced, other community members and alumni stepped forward to sponsor the food court, lounges, ballroom, offices and meeting rooms.
Seven people and organizations donated more than $1 million, with 55 others contributing anywhere from $10,000 to $999,999. The university received 30 more donations under $10,000.