Grad housing shifts to serve ‘functional’ needs

Michelle Ma

On a sunny day Jeffrey Aaberg can hear the sounds of children playing on the new structure outside his office at Engelhart Hall, a graduate housing residence located on the outskirts of the Evanston Campus.

The playground — upgraded to a colorful assortment of plastic slides, bouncing bridges and hopscotch squares — was improved this summer to better serve the needs of graduate students and their children who reside in Engelhart, said Aaberg, assistant director of housing.

“The playground has been a big hit for kids and families,” he said. “In the grand scheme, it’s a nicety, but we are seeing the value for residents.”

Since the 1970s the number of graduate students living in NU housing in Evanston has boomed, D’Arienzo said. Previously graduate living facilities were not thought of as places to introduce and implement programming. Now students have the option of living in a “functional environment” on campus.

Engelhart on Maple Avenue and Kellogg Graduate School of Management’s McManus Living-Learning Center on Orrington Avenue provide about 600 graduate students with university housing in Evanston. Engelhart has apartments available for singles, couples and families. McManus has housing for singles and couples only and allows no children.

NU graduate housing provides students with furnished twin singles and one-and two-bedroom apartments with utilities and furniture included in the contract, said Mark D’Arienzo, associate director of university housing. While students can have the feel of an apartment, they won’t miss out on typical residence hall programming, he said.

Engelhart usually is 95 percent to 96 percent occupied and McManus usually is full, he said.

Students living in Engelhart often come from regular apartments and shouldn’t have to return to a building that resembles a residence hall students may have lived in during their undergraduate years, Aaberg said.

“We are trying to make it less dorm-like and more apartment-like,” he said. “We’re changing the face and students have appreciated it.”

These changes include the improved playground, updated painting and new light fixtures in halls and apartments in Engelhart, Aaberg said. He added that kitchen renovations and custom-made furniture are included in these plans.

Along with offering graduate students building amenities, Graduate Residential Life officials try to address all the students’ needs through programming that includes speakers and outings.

“I just want people who live in the buildings to feel as if they live in a place that has community,” said Asra Kamal, area coordinator for graduate housing. “That’s our main goal.”

Kamal and four community assistants — as opposed to resident assistants in undergraduate housing — plan weekly events and a movie night. Some programs also try to include residents’ individual cultural traditions, including an annual celebration of Chinese New Year.

Events are well-attended despite busy graduate students’ schedules, Kamal said. The weekly events, including a recent trip to an opera performance in Chicago, are often full.

“Students crave programming,” she said. “A variety of representation will come (to events).”

Apart from planned events that foster community, Kamal said she has noticed a genuine concern among residents in Engelhart. Families and singles living in the building have created their own community.

“Aside from our programming, families take care of each other,” Kamal said. Often students will watch each other’s children or offer to provide outgrown baby clothes for families, she said.

McManus offers a supplemental environment for Kellogg students, said Frances Langewisch, Kellogg’s assistant dean for student affairs.

“Programs are catered to foster community toward Kellogg students,” she said. “Programs are designed to be a mix of educational and recreational activities.”

Reach Michelle Ma at [email protected]