by Kristin Proulx Jarvis ’06G
The Hartman Union Building lives up to its acronym, serving as the central connecting spot for the Plymouth State University campus. Named for Van A. Hartman, PSU’s dean of personnel from 1961 to 1968, the mission of the HUB is to educate PSU students not in academics, but in personal growth and responsible citizenship.
The services the HUB offers—from food and textbooks to meeting space for clubs and activities—complement and augment the learning that takes place in the classroom.
The original College Union Building, nicknamed the CUB, opened in 1972. The building, which was originally part of Plymouth High School, was renovated and expanded to about 30,000 square feet in size. Back then, the CUB housed a few meeting rooms, some student organization offices, the campus ministry, a snack bar, a print shop, and a student-run pub serving food and alcohol (the legal drinking age was 18.) A small building next door, called the CUB Annex, housed the radio station and rooms for graduate assistants.
In 1991, to meet the needs of a growing student population, the Student Senate approved funding to enlarge the building, and two years later, enrolled students and their parents began paying a $150 recreation fee to help pay for the expansion. From the very beginning, students were involved in the building’s transformation. They worked with architects to help decide what would be included in the new union building and where to locate offices and meeting rooms. The new union building opened, with much fanfare, in 1995. In addition to accommodating an increase in students, the HUB centralized student activities such as the radio station, bookstore, recreation and fitness areas, and student newspaper.
For Terri Potter, director of the HUB, today’s union building is a stark contrast to the old CUB, with its dark hallways, brown tile, and small windows. Today’s HUB has walls of windows, bright floors and walls, and 73,000 square feet of space housing dozens of offices and meeting rooms, fitness facilities, a bookstore, a print shop, as well as snack bars, a gymnasium, and lots of room for lounging or studying. “Now,” Potter says, “the building has a lot of sunlight and a lot of warmth.” And that warmth is more than just a thermostat reading. The coziness comes from the homey feeling students, faculty, and staff find at the HUB. Even in the summer, when the building sits in quiet repose, the feeling remains.
Potter estimates about half of PSU’s student population of 4,300 undergraduate and 2,600 graduate students use the HUB on a regular basis. Despite the fact that many students come to college with their own cars and plans to travel through New England on the weekends, the HUB is “consistently busy with students,” she says. Even those students who don’t flock to the Sidewalk Café every morning usually find a few reasons to congregate at the HUB during the year.
During the school year, the HUB hosts dozens of events that showcase the diversity and ingenuity of PSU students. There’s the Drag-Fabulous Show, a yearly lip-sync concert (sponsored by the SAGE Center, formerly Women’s Services and Gender Resources) featuring student, faculty, and professional performers dressed in drag. Sports fans gather to watch Red Sox and Patriots playoff games, while the politically savvy meet and greet presidential candidates during primary season, and student musicians catch some stage time at open mic nights in the Fireplace Lounge. The yearly Wellness Fair offers healthy snacks, massages, and ideas for alternative health care, while the Earth Day Fair features recycling, composting, and organic farming. Homecoming, Winter Carnival, and New Student Orientation are all based at the HUB. And who can forget the new HUB tradition—those daring riders who hold on tight to the mechanical bull on the Alumni Green during Spring Fling?
But the HUB’s real spirit is captured in the everyday routines of students. Stefanie Webb, speaker of the Student Senate, says she uses the HUB “in every way possible.”
“I spend a good deal of time meandering through the HUB,” Webb says. “I use the Tower Room as often as I can and the Senate Room as a place to get work done and hear some concerns, whether they be from the student body, other organizations, or the Senate itself. I wander into The Clock’s office to catch up with friends, and of course hit the café for a bagel.”
Webb describes the HUB as “chaos in its most organized form.” She calls the HUB spirited, informative, and above all, a busy and bursting home for students, faculty, and staff. “People, tables, chairs, signs, and words constantly prevent you from getting from one end to the other quickly, but in a way that is inviting rather than off-putting,” she says.
For Student Body President Aly Dethlefs, the HUB is a place to see and to be seen. When she gives tours of PSU as an admission representative, Dethlefs describes the HUB as the heart of the campus. The “Pawsway” (the HUB’s main hallway named in honor of the University’s panther mascot) is Dethlefs’ favorite place to sit. “You never fail to see someone you know pass by during the day,” she says. “There are always people going in and out, talking and laughing with each other. If I meet my friends anywhere, it’s usually the HUB, since it’s the easiest and most convenient place for everyone. I love the HUB not only because I practically live there, but because I can usually find something … I may need. My friends and I walk through it even though we don’t have to, just because it’s second nature.”
Building managers at the HUB have a special relationship with the building. Annie Gagne is one of several students trained to oversee the HUB between the time when the administrative staff leaves and the building closes. She helps set up and break down equipment and furniture for events, making sure the HUB maintains a “friendly and safe atmosphere.” The job also comes with a lot of responsibility: Gagne is trained in CPR, first aid, and the use of an automatic external defibrillator in case of emergency.
As a building manager, Gagne witnesses the way other students—from dedicated student organization leaders to passersby—take care of their home-away-from-home. At the HUB, students live up to the University’s motto, Ut prosim (That I may serve).
“Everyone I know who spends time in the HUB takes pride in and ownership of it by simply helping to keep a friendly and clean atmosphere,” says Gagne. “People are always willing to help tidy up a bit and help others in need.”
Rodney Ekstrom, assistant director for student activities, has met many students like Gagne during his time at the HUB. Ekstrom serves as the advisor for Programming Activities in a Campus Environment (PACE), an organization responsible for many of the special events held on campus each year. He notes that even the smallest University organizations collaborate to produce conferences, concerts, and other events. “Collectively, [events are] what makes this place hop,” he says.
The HUB is also a place where broader community connections form. Hundreds of Plymouth-area residents assembled at the HUB when Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Elizabeth Edwards visited the campus last fall. Several deejays from the community—some PSU alumni—do radio shows on WPCR, and residents participate in yoga, kickboxing, and aerobics classes offered at the HUB. The building also hosts blood drives, holiday fundraisers, and other community-focused events. In the summer, conference-goers and schoolchildren (who participate in the many camp programs held at PSU) pack the snack bar and lawn outside.
In addition to drawing community members in, the HUB is a micro-community of its own, where everybody knows your name, from the “bagel ladies” at the Sidewalk Café to the students staffing the information booth.
Sometimes, that sense of community is urgently needed. After the 2007 campus shootings at Virginia Tech, President Sara Jayne Steen and members of the PSU administration gathered with students and staff in the Fireplace Lounge to talk about how to make Plymouth State’s campus safer. The forum was full of emotion and reverence for those who had lost their lives at Virginia Tech. Instead of being a lecture, it was a true conversation between students and staff, says Ekstrom. “It reminded me of a family meeting,” he says. “People come together and talk about what to do next. The HUB is a point of gathering.”
A strong voice
When it comes time to change a policy or perform a minor renovation at the HUB, the students remain in the thick of the process. Building managers and student senators help pick out furniture, decide how to use space, and work through the budget to disperse money for student activities. According to Jennifer White, assistant director for Student Activities/Student Government, the students are always mindful of how much the fee should increase each year.
“They spend a lot of time discussing how to spend that $1.4 million [from fees],” says White. “Our hope is that all students are benefiting from that fee.”
Recently, students led the way in relocating a Rainbow Pride flag in the HUB to represent gay, bi-sexual, lesbian, and transgendered members of PSU’s community and changing the student organization constitution to reflect a non-discrimination policy for gender identity and expression.
White recognizes the maturity needed to make such decisions, and she sees it in the students, who transform from wide-eyed first-year students to responsible and sophisticated graduates.
“Watching the kids grow is amazing,” says White. “Alumni come back to visit … it’s home for them.”
Kristin Proulx Jarvis is a second grade teacher at Gilmanton School in Gilmanton, NH. She received her M.Ed. in elementary education /teacher certification from PSU in May 2006.
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