The college union, having served as a thriving community center on college campuses for more than 100 years, is a compelling venue to discuss physical space and community. The purpose of this study is to understand how highly rated unions make meaning of community, to identify common elements of college unions that are evident in campus community, and to provide a framework that practitioners can use when building or developing facilities that are purposefully community-centered. Despite the existing scholarship regarding community on campus, very little formal research can be found regarding community and its relationship with the college union (DeSawal and Yakaboski, 2013). Understanding this gap, the research presented in this paper aims to offer new insight into the connection between community and the college union. The research questions developed for this study are: 1) How do students attending colleges with highly rated union facilities make meaning of community?, and 2) What elements of highly rated unions contribute to the development of community on college campuses? The research questions were addressed by employing action research methods as described by Herr and Anderson (2005). Briefly explained, this process entails identifying the problem at hand, inserting oneself (the researcher) into the subject, investigating what is already occurring/not occurring, and developing an action plan to improve upon the existing process. This qualitative study researched three college union cases, each located on public regional campuses in the upper Midwest. Multiple site visits of the college unions were conducted over the course of this study, which included semi-structured interviews with facility managers/directors, focus groups with users of the facilities, a review of documents related to the design and construction of those facilities, and researcher observations. The college unions selected as case studies are: Porter Memorial Union (PMU) – the central hub of activity at Alliance State University; C. Shaw Student Center (CSSC) – a focal point of community on the campus of State University–Concord; and Shirley Bird Student Union (SBSU) – which sits at the center of the Hearthstone State University campus. Following the collection and subsequent distillation of data into patterns and relationships, five key elements of community emerged. The discovered common elements that are evident in campus community among the three college union cases are: 1) Student-Centered, 2) Dynamic Spaces, 3) Pathways to Success, 4) College is a Conversation, and 5) House of Serendipity. When taken together, the elements presented in this study offer a well-considered plan for college union leaders, designers, and university administrators to employ when moving forward with college union renovation or construction projects.
University of Minnesota D.Ed. dissertation. May 2016. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisor: David Weerts. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 128 pages.
Where All May Meet on Common Ground: Elements of College Unions Evident in Campus Community.
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