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News: Cheyney Building a Bright Future; Unveils New Residence Hall

October 8, 2012

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Cheyney University unveiled the first new building on campus — a dormitory — in more than 30 years on Friday.

By VINCE SULLIVAN
vsullivan@delcotimes.com
 

THORNBURY — Though its stone exterior blends in seamlessly with the surrounding historical buildings, some more than 150 years old, the newest addition to the campus of Cheyney University houses state-of-the-art amenities for almost 400 students.

The Living and Learning Community dormitory building began housing students at the beginning of the fall semester after more than a year of construction, becoming the first new building on campus in about 30 years. University officials hosted an open house at the facility Friday evening, which is still waiting on a permanent name and some other finishing touches.

The modularly-constructed dorm’s four stories were trucked onto campus in large sections and then assembled on site. Inside, a web of color-coded corridors are the new home for students who are divided by area of study. The setup creates an environment of communal learning where students can cram for tests or share notes with like-minded classmates who are pursuing similar degrees.

“It is a living, learning community where the students live in areas divided by major,” University President Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital said earlier this week. “There are various little groups of students.”

The $50 million building, which was mainly financed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through the State System of Higher Education, is the first step in pursuit of significant growth at Cheyney.

Over the last several years, the college, one of 14 in the state system, has had problems with accreditation and finances. In March 2009, the Middle States Commission of Higher Education warned Cheyney that it was in danger of losing its status as an accredited institution because it had failed to maintain three of the 14 standards for certification. If it has lost its stature with Middle States, students at the college would have lost eligibility for federal financial aid, which many students depend on to fund their education.

Around that time, Cheyney’s financial situation proved to be troublesome as the college was operating with a deficit of more than $2 million. The State System appointed a commission to try and sort out its budget.

Since then, the accreditation flap has been righted, according to a commission spokesman, and the university’s financial problems are beginning to improve.

“We haven’t had financial problems,” Dr. Howard-Vital said. “We’ve had problems about getting students enrolled. ... We believe that like the rest of the country, we’re coming out of the recession and the best way to strengthen our university is to strengthen enrollment.”  
 

To that end, the new building was conceived and constructed. The dorm is an attractive facility, which is as important to prospective students as selecting a major, according to a member of the Council of Trustees.

“Young people today are used to living comfortably,” said Sam Patterson,chairman of the council’s Finance Committee and a graduate of Cheyney’s Class of 1982. “When we were students, we were just happy we had some place to go. They use the dorms now as a way to make the decision on where they’re going to go.”

With no shortage of options for higher education in the region, Cheyney’s leaders are trying to be competitive in a difficult arena.

“There are a lot of great colleges and universities around here, and without comparable facilities, we’re at a disadvantage,” Dr. Howard-Vital said.

“This will help bring in new students,” Patterson said, referring to Cheyney’s focus on increasing enrollment.

Students began moving into the new building in August as they arrived to begin the fall semester. Its brightly lit hallways and spacious lounges combine with a focus on technology to create an experience much different than in other buildings on campus.

“Upperclassmen, when they come in, they say it seems like it’s on a different campus,” said sophomore Emmanuel Harris, a Washington, D.C., native studying social relations with a concentration in criminal justice, along with a minor in psychology. Harris serves as a Resident Advisor in the building.

“It’s very spacious and clean,” Harris said, adding that weekly inspections of student rooms aim to keep it that way. “I like it. It’s very comfortable.”

Each floor is equipped with a laundry room and a depository for trash and recycling. Multiple lounges on each of the four floors house televisions and lots of tables and seating and serve as a recreational meeting place or an area for group study sessions. The building is air-conditioned and student ID cards grant access to the building and their individual rooms.

The suite-style rooms are all furnished with microwaves and refrigerators and each has its own bathroom and sink. Sophomore Travonya Kenly, who also serves as a Resident Advisor, occupies a single bedroom in a single-double suite on the third floor. For the Allentown native studying chemistry and biology, the amenities make dorm life much better than her freshman year. Continued...

“I could definitely tell the difference,” she said. The apartment-like setup helps to keep students focused on their studies when needed, but also creates a communal environment.

“You could stay in your room for as long as you want,” Kenly said. With classes done for the weekend, some students were gathered in one of the third floor lounges facing off in a game of NBA 2K13 on a PlayStation, enjoying the large flat-panel television. Others took advantage of some quiet common areas to talk with friends and family on the phone.

The building is still in need of some finishing touches. It houses several meeting rooms that can be used to hold classes, as well as a sleek, glass-walled common room on the ground floor, with a more private loft overlooking it. According to Public Relations Director Gwen Owens, the goal is to eventually have a cafe that serves food and beverages in the space, along with some amusement items like ping pong.

The dormitory building will have a short lifespan as the university’s newest building, though. It is merely the first building block of a long-term plan to enact Cheyney’s 21st century renaissance.

Construction is already under way on the college’s first new academic building in more than three decades. The foundation is currently being dug out for a new science building that will help to increase Cheyney’s offerings in STEM (Science, Technology and Math) programs.

“It will allow us to increase our STEM majors,” Dr. Howard-Vital said of the 50,000-square-foot building. “We’re very proud of our scientists. They do a lot of research and bring in a lot of grant money.”

Patterson outlined plans for a new gymnasium and more possible dorm buildings. Dr. Howard-Vital also said renovations were recently completed on the oldest building on the 175-year-old campus and extensive renovations on other buildings were in the works.

“We’re hoping that this is just the beginning,” Patterson said. “We definitely think we have a role to play in educating young people.”

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