What's Next at Norris?

Interview with Kelly Ann SchaeferNorris University Center Executive Director

In the fall of 2019, Northwestern University is on track to have a new university center. The plan to build a new center is well underway and on schedule as the university prepares to break ground in 2017. In the meanwhile though, Norris University Center staff and administration is still actively working to serve the needs of students.

“We’re using the research we have for the new center to do what we can to improve our existing facilities,” said Kelly Ann Schaefer, the university center’s executive director.

In the past year, the Norris team has opened a new Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Student Organization Resource Center (also known as the SOURCE). Norris Center also has been revamped with an all-gender restroom, an expanded Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, and layout changes in Starbucks and lounge area around the building.

Along with these changes, Norris University Center will continue to evolve this year with another all-gender bathroom that is going to be built on the third floor. After recommendations from the Undergraduate Budget Priorities Committee to add more study space, Norris will also be moving a wall in the Big Ten Room to make space for a 40-seat classroom. This will also allow for the expansion of the Starbucks lounge.

“We’re really trying to assess and meet the needs of our current students,” Schaefer said. “Whether that means more collaborative spaces or classrooms, we want to make sure to enhance everyone’s experience at Norris.”

While Schaefer recognizes that the existing Norris cannot make costly changes with a new center already on the way, she also says there are lots of ways to fix up the existing facilities in a way that maximizes services for students. Last year, Norris did just that with the opening of the Student Organization Resource Center. The resource center was created as a result of research conducted by architects and various stakeholders. Research showed that students wanted more collaborative spaces, so the center refurbished the third floor area with new paint, carpeting, and furniture.

Changes like these are also meant to help see what works for the future university center’s design. According to Schaefer, many of these changes are taking place now to ensure that the new center instills already proven practices.

As far as the plans for the new center, architects and administration have worked to collect information on people’s hopes for future services, programs, and facilities. With the help of 43 different focus groups, students with various interests in the university - from career services to sustainability to food - have helped the administration reach a consensus on changes that are important to the university at large.

“We want to know what works based on student demand,” Schaefer said. “We want Norris to continue evolving to meet every student’s needs, which is why everyday feedback is so important.”