Big changes in the Memorial Union

Rendering of new student lounge space

Rendering of new student lounge space

It may be a bit difficult to access the Memorial Union from the east end these days, but big changes are ahead for the student union over the next year, including a new restaurant, new gathering spaces and some new tenants.

Kent Sumner, MU assistant director of marketing, and Robyn Jones, assistant director for MU Retail Food Services, are excited about plans to open a new food concept in space formerly occupied by the OSU Beaver Store, which has now relocated near Gill Coliseum. Called North Porch Café, the restaurant will feature Southeast Asian fast food, including Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), curry bowls, noodles, and many vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options.  While there will be some tables, the restaurant is more takeout-oriented, but a new student lounge to the south of the space will offer plenty of opportunity for seating.

“It’s Asian street fare, essentially,” said Sumner. “I’ve been trying samples and they’re really good.”

The restaurant will open in early June, and will be a 12-month operation, unlike some other MU food spaces that close during the summer. A large grand opening celebration will be scheduled for the fall.

North Porch Cafe

North Porch Cafe

“It gives a different taste on campus, and the revenues from the business will go to support student projects, and help keep student fees low,” Sumner said. “It’s a revenue generator for students.”

The restaurant and lounge will flank a large central event space, giving students, staff and faculty another meeting room/event option for conferences and other activities. Sumner said it is a nice compliment to the MU ballroom, which can be too large for some events. A glass art piece by Portland artist Alex Hirsch will be installed in the space as part of the “Percent for Art” program.  The glass panels represent OSU’s Land, Sea, Sun and Space Grant status.

New ADA accessible bathrooms also will be added into the space.

New art in event/conference space

New art in event/conference space

The level below the restaurant and event space, which formerly housed the book area of the bookstore, will now be divided into the Community and Cultural Kitchen (currently housed in Snell Hall) and a multipurpose room. The kitchen, where students prepare meals for cultural events, will be located on the same floor as the MU ballroom, making it much easier to move food items into the ballroom for cultural nights and other activities. A teaching station will also be created in the kitchen for educational purposes.

The lowest level of the section, which previously housed a U.S. Post Office, will become office space for MU facilities service staff.

Within the main portion of the MU, a number of offices are shifting once the Student Experience Center comes online in 2015. The Office of Student Leadership and Involvement, the Memorial Union Program Council, and Student Events and Activities Center, as well as the Auxiliaries and Activities Business Center, will all be moving out of the MU, opening up offices for more meeting room space, as well as the addition of the Graduate School Success Center on the second floor.

“While a variety of colleges and programs have small areas for graduate students to congregate, there has been no dedicated, collective space for graduate students to gather and collaborate across disciplines and colleges,” said Courtney Everson, graduate program analyst and graduate student liaison. “The GSSC is unique in its purpose and creation.”

The center will provide a communal space for graduate students, and be close to facilities that will help to ensure their academic and social success. It will offer a space for interdisciplinary conversations, house centralized resources and provide a sense of community that previously hasn’t been available to graduate students.

The creation of the center was student driven, and was taken up by the Graduate School last year. Everson said community-building has been emphasized by many graduate students as a way to increase their quality of life and a feeling of inclusivity.

Graduate students working in the center will collaborate with the Graduate School staff and other campus programs to help better integrate international students, underrepresented minorities, and non-traditional grad students, many of whom can feel culturally and socially marginalized.

“We hope for the GSSC to become a pivotal resource for this growing population,” Everson said, “and to become a supporting place for the activities of graduate faculty, staff and diverse campus entities to flourish, in common commitment to graduate student recruitment, retention and success.”

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