New collaborative home for student organizations at Western encourages engagement, boosts belonging

Contact: Erin Flynn
Students stand together in front of the new WMU Student Center.

The Student Organization Center is positioned at the front of the new WMU Student Center, giving it high visibility and encouraging student engagement.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—You can't miss it. Front and center in Western Michigan University’s new student center—a beacon of activity at the heart of campus—the new home base for registered student organizations (RSOs) holds the pulse of the Bronco community.

Bash Shah, Thomas Ryder, Griffin Baginski and Sochy Urobi sit in a common space in the new SOC.

"Hopefully it will really draw people in," says AbbyLynne Baxter, RSO graduate student assistant in the Office of Student Engagement.

"A lot of different organizations are going to be in (the Student Organization Center), so people are going to be more inclined to come and talk and make friends," adds Thomas Ryder, a member of the Bronco African Students Association. "It's really for the students."

The new Student Organization Center (SOC) is three times larger than the former space in the Bernhard Center and will house dozens of RSOs.

"The updated facility offers much needed space and resources, and we're genuinely enthusiastic about making the most of it," says Jacob Roberts, president of the Campus Activities Board, vice president of Best Buddies and a member of several other student organizations. "We're looking forward to seeing the new SOC evolve into a vibrant hub where students can naturally come together, fostering a strong sense of community and connection."

"It's next level," adds Cully Cooper, general manager of WIDR-FM. "I think it's going to be game-changing, because it's going to be a fun space to be involved in your org. And then all of the other orgs are going to be together, too, so that's going to lead to collaboration."

Cully Cooper checks equipment in WIDR-FM's new space in the SOC.

With both enclosed offices and desk spaces, a conference room, common space as well as podcasting and video production rooms, the design gives RSOs room to interact and engage with each other and prospective members like never before. 

"I'm really excited to have a space that can feel more community-centered and more connected," says Megan Baldry, president of Broncothon at WMU, a philanthropic organization that raises money for a number of programs at Helen Devos Children's Hospital. "I have a feeling people are going to want to be in there and hang out in there because it's new and exciting, and it's a cool, collaborative space. I would love to get to meet some other RSO and their teams who might have similar interests or missions."

"This could really help as a space for students to work and become more engaged," adds Griffin Baginski, a member of the Western Student Association. "I think it will really help people become more aware of the ways they could become involved with student life on campus."

"The WMU Student Center is all centered on us students. I think (the new SOC) is a big advantage for smaller organizations as well, because a lot of them don't have a good meeting space," adds Jash Shah, a member of Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity. "Having this space is a lot more welcoming. And, to be honest, it's just really nice."

The SOC is also the new home for the Student Media Group, which includes WIDR-FM and the Western Herald.The student-run radio station will have studios looking out onto Sangren Plaza, giving anyone walking by a front-row seat to production. There will also be podcasting and video production rooms available for RSOs to help boost their digital presence.

WIDR-FM's studios feature floor-to-ceiling windows that look out into Sangren Plaza.

"We've always been in the basement of Faunce (Student Services Building), which is super low visibility and very hard to find. It's just so cool to be in a space that other people will know about," says Cori Osterman, editor-in-chief of the Western Herald. "I can already feel the positive energy that I assume will be here when all of the RSOs are in one space and we can talk to each other. Not only does it give us more visibility, but as student media, we can now showcase everything that everyone else is doing."

"I think we're doing really, really good work as the Student Media Group, and finally students will have access to that and be able to literally walk in the door and be welcomed into that," adds Cooper. "I think (accessibility to) more students will breed more activity, more events, more publishing, more broadcasting and ultimately more participation."

A SOC(k) party is in the works to introduce students to the new space on Wednesday, Aug. 23, from 4 to 6 p.m. There will be free food, cookies to decorate and a sock coloring contest.

"RSOs will be able to decorate socks to show off their RSO pride. We'll get them printed and hang them in the big front windows and let the campus community vote on their favorites," says Baxter. Her hope is to print the winning design on an actual pair of socks for Chris Sligh, director of the Office of Student Engagement, to wear and promote the organization.

"We just want everyone to get excited, involved and engaged in the space and really make it feel like home," she adds. "It's just really exciting to have this new, really cool building that is going to be a hotspot on campus and really draw people in."

Two students unpack boxes.

Members of Alpha Lambda Delta move into their desk space in the SOC.

Baldry hopes the increased visibility of the new SOC space will encourage students to wander in, learn about the many organizations on campus and maybe even find a new hobby or friend group.

"(Joining RSOs) has been a great way for me to professionally develop and to personally develop and find new friends. I started trying things that I had never tried before and I loved. I joined the Latin Dance Club and started doing that. I had never danced salsa or merengue before, but I ended up loving it and I made new friends there. (Joining RSOs) just kind of opens you up to a new world of things that you had no clue you were going to like just by having a community of people who are ready to try them."

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.