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Inside Look: Welcome centers

Institutions work to make prospective students, visitors feel at ease as soon as they step on campus
University Business, September 2013
The Hancock Welcome Center at Liberty University was completed in August 2012 for $12 million.
The Hancock Welcome Center at Liberty University was completed in August 2012 for $12 million.

While the “curb appeal” of well-manicured lawns as well as easy parking are crucial parts of the first impression a campus makes, how welcome visitors feel once inside the first building they encounter on campus is just as important.

To make their campuses more enticing and friendly to those who aren’t used to making their way around there, some institutions have created welcome centers as a first stop for prospective students, family members, alumni, and other guests.

When it comes to convincing prospective students to apply and enroll, the campus visit is key. All recruitment efforts are therefore aimed at getting students and families on campus, says Craig Engel, senior vice president for Noel-Levitz’s consulting services.

The main point here is to get prospective students to envision themselves as a member of the community as soon as possible, he says. But welcome centers should have something for all types of campus visitors.

Prospective students are seeking information about majors and activities, while more casual visitors, such as community members, may be most interested in the history of the institution, Engel says.

It’s essential that both types of information are clearly and boldly on display, he says.

Currently, many institutions are caught up in a “keeping up with the Joneses” competition when it comes to welcome centers, Engel says. Huge facilities with tall ceilings and large fireplaces have become the norm. This grandness is intended to make a campus stand out.

(Related UBTech presentation: Innovative Spaces)

Here’s how institutions have used building and interior design elements to impress visitors and give them a sense of what makes the college or university special.

Making a grand statement

The atrium of the Hancock Welcome Center at Liberty University (Va.) aims to leave alumni, visitors, and prospective students awestruck. Completed in August 2012 for $12 million, the three-story, 33,000-square-foot facility has a Jeffersonian design and marble floors, elements that aim to achieve a level of grandness befitting the world’s largest Christian university.

Architect: David Giles (Lynchburg, Va.); Interior Design: HEWV (Norfolk, Va.); Contractor: Glass & Associates, Inc. (Lynchburg, Va.)

Personalizing information sharing

In addition to achieving the right look and feel, welcome centers need to provide the right information to visitors. At Liberty University, two interactive touch surfaces help in personalizing the visit.

One display covers local attractions and the history of the university. The other features majors and activities of interest. When prospective students check in, they are given cards that can be placed on top of that interactive surface, which cues appropriate content.

Creating a homey feel

To infuse a feeling of true southern hospitality, Hulsey Hall, the main room of the Admission Welcome Center at Birmingham Southern College (Ala.), was designed to look like a living room in a well-appointed house. The $3.4 million facility, completed in September 2008, has comfortable couches and armchairs, and coffee and fresh-baked cookies are always at the ready.

An enthusiastic greeter sits at a reception desk to welcome prospective students, enhancing the tone of the room and making students and their families feel at home. A wall-mounted screen shows a highlight video loop of fun events on campus.

Design: McAlpine Tankersly Architecture (Montgomery, Ala.)

Building in multipurpose space

The visitor center at Rutgers University in New Jersey serves as a hall for community functions as well as a gathering spot for campus tours. Its multipurpose room can be divided into three separate spaces, each seating 175 people for banquets, lectures, and meetings.

On the admissions side, the $6.7 million center, completed in 2009, has room for admissions’ staff to host sessions on academic offerings for up to 80 prospective students.

The two-story, 12,000 square-foot center also has a digital 42-foot x 8-foot interactive multimedia exhibit that informs visitors about the Rutgers campuses, programs, and activities.

Design: The Biber Partnership AIA (Summit, N.J.); Contractor: Michael Riesz and Company (Fords, N.J.); Exhibit design: Ralph Appelbaum Associates (New York, N.Y.)

Emphasizing brand

Before September 2009, prospective students at Capital University (Ohio) were crammed into the basement of an administrative building. Now there’s a $937,443 welcome center, where students are introduced to Capital’s identity as they enter.

Rooms are covered in the words of the institution’s academic approach: “Ask. Think. Lead.” Other spaces are decorated with “Columbus” and “Bexley,” highlighting the institution’s location.

To add a personal touch, visiting students see their names on flatscreen TVs upon their arrival. A “Today/Tomorrow” wall is covered with incoming students’ photos and handwritten aspirations. The project team’s goal is that prospective students will see this wall and want to become part of the community.

Design: Lupton Rausch Architecture and Interior Design; Engineering consultants: McMullen Engineering Co. and Shelly Metz Baumann Hawk Inc.; Brand consultant: Ologie; Furniture: Dupler Office Inc. (all of Columbus, Ohio)

Highlighting academics

When the College of Human Sciences Student Welcome Center at Iowa State University is complete in August 2014, it will serve to increase the visibility of the school and its 14 academic program offerings. The center is part of a $3.1 million remodeling project of MacKay Hall, initially constructed in 1911 and located centrally on campus.

A previously dark lounge will be brightened with glass doors and light colors. The design includes smaller nooks in the center for one or two families to gather, as well as conference-style tables for larger groups. Two recruitment specialists will have offices in the welcome center, helping to ensure there is always a member of the admissions staff there to greet prospective students.

Design: Brooks Borg Skiles Architecture Engineering, LLP (Des Moines, Iowa)

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