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FULL HOUSE

A spike in applications for fall semester and the opening of new dining and residence halls make WCU ‘the place to be’

By TERESA KILLIAN

More than 12,000 people applied for enrollment in the 2009-10 freshman class at Western Carolina – so many that during the spring the approximately 9,000-student university started a waiting list. “When I spoke to freshmen at orientation, I said, ‘You have good timing,’” said Keith Corzine ’82, director of residential living. “Tremendous efforts by many to make WCU the place to be are truly coming to life this fall. A new dining hall has opened in the heart of campus next to a brand new residence hall and across from a recreation facility that is not even a year old. Meanwhile, we have renovated classrooms and laboratories, and construction is under way on another residence hall and a state-of-the-art health sciences building.” Together, the initiatives enhance the quality of the student experience inside and outside the classroom and create a vibrant quad, said Corzine.

Enrollment Numbers

Students agree. “It’s becoming the heart of campus,” said Amanda Bienhaus, an Honors College junior from Evansville, Ind., who is excited about living in the new Balsam Hall. “I see a lot of people playing Frisbee and catch on the lawn, and I see a lot of people working out in the new recreation center or hanging out with friends outside of the dining hall.” Freshmen such as Chelsea Finley of Asheville say the Alumni Tower and new dining hall are where they meet up with friends.

The $17.6 million, 53,000-square-foot Courtyard Dining Hall offers indoor and outdoor seating, arched doorways, tall ceilings and natural light filtering in from about 130 windows. First to open inside was a convenience store, Starbucks Coffee Company and an upstairs all-you-care-to-eat venue. Food is cooked right in front of diners at themed stations, including a deli; a “home zone” with rotisserie items and traditional meats, potatoes and vegetables; an international grill; a pasta and pizza center with a fiery, old-world adobe-style oven; a dessert station with fresh-baked goods; and salad bar and beverage centers. “It feels more like a restaurant,” said Andrew Rogers, a junior from Alpharetta, Ga. Closer to the start of the fall semester, the dining hall also will open a McAlister’s Deli and a food court featuring Zoca, a Mexican-themed restaurant; Grille Works; Panda Express; and Freshens.

Next door, students will move into the new four-story, 426-bed Balsam Hall – the first of a $50.2 million pair of residence halls to replace Helder and Leatherwood. Most of the residents in Balsam’s mix of single and double rooms with private baths and common living areas and kitchens will be from WCU’s residential Honors College. Architects incorporated features such as columns and balconies that Honors students came to associate with the college in its old home of Reynolds Hall. Also, after a design charette involving students Jennie V. Dowdle ’08, Michael O’Shea and Maleah Pusz ’09, architects added innovations such as basement garage band space and a central arch complete with a study room that will bridge the fourth floor of Balsam Hall with the companion residence hall scheduled to open in fall 2010. Brian Railsback, dean of the Honors College, said the students were inspired by the arches they saw in France and Spain – and specifically in Barcelona’s Barri Gotic or “Gothic Quarter” – while traveling as part of an Honors class on the post-modern literary American expatriates.

For Shannon Owen, a junior from Shelby and president of the Honors College Board, relocating the Honors College to the center of campus is a big deal. “Some were worried about losing the community we built on the hill by leaving Reynolds, but I hope that translates to Balsam and that the location will make it easier for even more students to get involved in Honors College activities that will be hosted there,” said Owen.

Work also begins this fall on the newest part of campus – 344 acres acquired across N.C. Highway 107 as part of the Millennial Initiative. A comprehensive regional economic development strategy, the initiative involves developing neighborhoods anchored by an academic building and surrounded by related private industry and government partners. Construction has started on a $46 million, 160,000-square-foot health sciences building. The four-story facility will bring under one roof 11 programs from the College of Health and Human Sciences ranging from physical therapy to nursing. Inside will be classrooms, program and research laboratories, specialized clinics, offices, gathering places and a coffeehouse restaurant. Drew Craig, a junior environmental health major from Charlotte, said he is particularly excited about the building’s energy-efficiency features that will be constructed in line with guidelines for national certification in green design. “We have a responsibility to protect our environment, and this building is designed to help WCU do that,” said Craig.

On top of the many exciting openings, projects and events this fall, the Department of Residential Living is preparing for a full house, said Corzine. Although actual enrollment will not be known until after classes start, the freshman class could be one of the biggest in recent years. In 2004, WCU’s freshman class numbered 1,578 students. This year, 1,532 freshmen attended full orientation sessions, and an additional session was scheduled for August.

As a result, staff members have been boosting living-learning programs for first-year students such as Western Carolina PEAKS. In the program, students join a community centered on a topic such as cultivating leadership skills and helping the environment, and then participate in activities throughout the year to help them bond and discover their paths. Meeting them at the beginning of their journey is one of the most exciting days of the year for resident directors, including Brian Boyer, who works in Scott Hall. “I always joke that move-in day is like Christmas morning for me,” said Boyer. “It probably sounds pretty cliché, but by far, my favorite part of being a resident director is the students. I have met some incredible students and watched them grow into tremendous adults.”