The University of North Dakota and its student-centered Memorial Union had another moment to shine recently at the annual conference for the Association of College Unions International in Boston.
Memorial Union Director Cheryl Grew-Gillen said UND was part of the organization’s Architecture & Design Showcase featuring student union projects from across the country.
UND Memorial Union architects — WTW Architects of Pittsburgh and JLG Architects of Grand Forks — were recognized with a 2022 ACUI Facility Design Award for projects in the financial tier over $55 million. Just last fall, UND also made the cover of ACUI’s 2022 Special Edition Bulletin for its “Renovation & Construction Showcase,” which also featured the Union.
“I don’t know how many projects were nominated this time, but it’s always very competitive,” Grew-Gillen said. “At first, we didn’t think it was going to happen for us because we were supposed to hear late in the week, and we hadn’t heard anything yet by late Thursday.
“We finally received an email by Friday morning, and there was a lot of joyous yelling as I celebrated by myself in my office. Everyone else already had stepped out to work on other stuff. It was funny because I reached out to the architect, Amy Maceyko, and she couldn’t really shout out to celebrate either because she was in the middle of a car dealership.”
A very bright spotlight
But there would be plenty of time for Grew-Gillen, Maceyko and Aaron Flynn, UND’s assistant director of Memorial Union Facilities & Operations, to celebrate with others at the five-day developmental conference in late February and March.
“I can’t count the number of folks who came up to me and talked about the award and congratulated us on the project,” Flynn said. “I’m not going to lie. It was absolutely gratifying and very rewarding to know we played a role in a project that was acknowledged internationally.” Each year, nearly 1,000 people from countries as far away as the United Kingdom, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand attend the conference.
Both Flynn and Grew-Gillen were quick to point out, however, that it was UND’s students who made the award and the Memorial Union itself possible. It was a Student Government-led initiative and a 2018 student referendum vote to increase student fees that cleared the way for construction of the $80 million project.
“It was an honor to be there, but so many other people deserved the same recognition,” Flynn said. “So many folks should have been standing side by side with us — especially all of our students who helped with the project.”
Grew-Gillen echoed that sentiment.
“We had many students involved in the process across several years. They were brought to the planning table right from the start,” Grew-Gillen said. “And the architects really hit the mark. They always prided themselves on really listening to the students so they could create a design that aligned with the students’ values, needs and priorities. It was all about student learning and creating a lively campus community.”
Community at the heart
And it was a project that was truly transformative, Grew-Gillen added. The project was completed in August 2021, but visitor traffic numbers continue to grow — counting current students, alumni and others who are just curious to see the new facility.
ACUI says the Facility Design Awards “were created to encourage and recognize excellence in the design of student-centered facilities that support campus community building and student learning.”
Further, on its webpage announcing the winners, it states: “With the goal to improve student life through thoughtful design, the University of North Dakota envisioned a new union. The 155,000-square-foot facility is located within the campus historic district. The design features a signature tower, serving as a landmark for visitors and students.”
It goes on to say, “The Memorial Union is a thriving hub on campus, acting as a new welcome mat for the University and offering a place of community that did not previously exist.”
Grew-Gillen said UND has been a member of ACUI since 1946, five years before the opening of the University’s very first Memorial Union in 1951. The mission of the organization is to support its members in the development of community through education, advocacy and delivery of services.