Residence Hall Engagement Centers Strengthen Communities

Tucked in the basement of Shepard Hall is the Student Engagement Center. By day, the space is a classroom, but most evenings, the desks are pushed aside, and it becomes a place for students to grow and learn in a less traditional sense. Students learn to cook in the gorgeous demonstration kitchen, play games with friends, hold club meetings, and get to know other residents.

The Engagement Center was created during Shepard Hall’s 2015-16 renovation, and since then it has been providing opportunities for community building and important conversations. With the University’s ongoing 10-year Housing Master Plan, spaces like Shepard’s Engagement Center will soon exist in every residential neighborhood, allowing students, staff, and faculty to build and strengthen their communities.  

One of the numerous great examples of how the Engagement Center is bringing Wildcats together was through the Dolphin Show Opening Night Reception on January 26. Fifty students, faculty, and staff from all over campus gathered in the space  in anticipation of the 76th Annual Dolphin Show, Ragtime. After socializing and snacking on hors d’oeuvres, the group was welcomed by faculty-in-residence of the 1838 Chicago/Shepard Hall Residential Community Melissa Foster, a senior musical theatre lecturer in the School of Communication. Foster expressed excitement for the show, which she called “one of the best musicals ever written,” but also for the chance to come together over art and discuss the important themes explored in Ragtime.

“It's extremely important to give the residents a chance to interact in a safe setting,” Foster said. “It's easier to talk to people you don't otherwise know, and a reception with a targeted topic such as Ragtime provides the ability to interact about specific subject matter or to have a more casual and informal conversation.”

Michael Kelleher, executive business producer of Dolphin Show, also addressed the group. The School of Communication junior told students about the hard work and dedication that went into every aspect of the show. “It has developed from a celebrated campus tradition to America’s largest student-produced musical, which is a title we take very seriously,” Kelleher said. “To us it means that we have the responsibility to represent the very best that student theater can be.”

After the remarks, attendees continued mingling with one another until they headed over to take in Ragtime as a group. The event was supported by the W. Keren and Robert Vishny Endowed Fund, which promotes student and faculty engagement to enrich the residential experience.