Resident Assistant Ques’tavia “Peaches” Bradshaw popped her head into a room, just as she had been doing all morning Friday, Aug. 21, helping freshmen as they moved onto the second floor of the brand new 274-bed North Hall.
“Now, if you want your bed raised, let them know downstairs and they can help you with that,” Bradshaw, a 20-year-old junior and Accounting major, told a girl going through boxes. “And remember, just get with me for anything. I’m here to help.”
Building community and making people comfortable was the goal of the day, as more than 4,000 Jacksonville University students get ready for the first day of classes on Monday, Aug. 24. The new 70,000-square-foot North Hall for the Class of 2019 is symbolic of that effort, with its innovative three-wing design geared toward promoting openness and inclusion. It’s the result of visits to six different universities, extensive focus groups and discussions with students to make sure it meets the needs of today’s active, engaged, connected and mobile student, said Chief Student Affairs Officer Dr. Kristie Gover.
Kitchenettes, classrooms, study alcoves and community spaces dot the floors. The spirit of JU and Jacksonville is woven throughout the building, with specially commissioned artwork. The student-to-RA ratio of about 25-to-1 is half that of typical residence halls, to provide more of the personalized attention that is a hallmark of a private university. RAs have been specially trained to mentor first-year students and develop community through intentional programming.
“The staff has been amazing. Everyone is here to help, and my move-in was done in a second,” said Communications major Emily Myslinski, 18, a local Bishop Kenny High School grad and new Dolphin on JU’s Track and Field team. She and her mom, Amy, were getting tips and guidance from a JU Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity member helping out. “The campus is so gorgeous, and I love the river view. I’m looking forward to getting acquainted with everything and everyone.”
Dozens of trained student, faculty and staff helpers made move-in flow smoothly as new students started getting to know one another in gathering spaces and rooms.
“We are really pushing that sense of community. It’s not time to sit in their rooms or be a recluse,” said Shawna Newman, 19, a sophomore English major and one of the hall’s specially trained RAs. “We want to get them to activities, to leave their door open. These first six weeks are critical, and this hall is built to be really accommodating, with hangout space and so many ways to be drawn out of your room. Even the community-style bathrooms, that’s a great way that you meet new people, believe it or not. Everything is designed to unite everyone.”
North Hall consists of student residences along with space for games and activities, laundry facilities, offices, classrooms, study areas and a multi-purpose room. The upper floors include additional living space and study lounges; all floors have a kitchenette. High-tech amenities include fiber-optic communications, CAT-6 wiring and cell phone range extenders.
The building is the latest addition to upgrades at the University planned and completed under President Tim Cost, including the recent acquisition of 40 acres of riverfront property immediately south of the JU campus, new campus dining options, a new football/lacrosse stadium, improved academic spaces and research laboratories, the new Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences building, a completely revitalized Nelms Plaza collaborative outdoor study area, and a $1.5 million expansion of the River House student center.
Friday’s “Welcome Wagon” approach wasn’t lost on parents like Laura True of Huntersville, N.C., who had come with her family to move in daughter Shaynah True, 18. The freshman is doing prerequisite work toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in the Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences.
“We are so pleased; everything is so organized and and everyone is so helpful,” she said. “It’s a very warm atmosphere they’ve created. Shaynah really likes the small campus and overall close feeling. I know the people on campus will take care of her, from the ‘Campus Mom’ (Student Solutions Center’s Katie Counihan) to Shaynah’s Sailing Coach Jon Faudree, who I consider her new ‘Campus Dad.’
Perhaps RA Newman, eyeing groups of students entering the building and hearing laughter and music playing outside, summed it up best.
“I’m so excited. This year is going to be the best.”