Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Students find home away from home with Host Family Program



During his senior year, as he was beginning to explore options after graduation, UIS student Jeremy Winters was introduced to Darryl Thomas, who works for the government in an entrepreneurship program in Springfield.

“He took me in like family, invited me over for dinner, and I met his family,” Winters said. “I told him about how I want to start my own businesses and own some businesses. He really taught me how to network.”

The positive relationship between Winters and Thomas was created through the Host Family Program, which is part of the Diversity Center at UIS.

The Host Family Program was started last fall by Herb Caldwell, admission and community partner counselor for the Diversity Center. Caldwell said the concept of the program came from both his personal experience and programs he has seen as part of international student offices on other campuses.

“In the town I grew up in, when dorms would close, there would always be students from the local college at my home,” he said. “My parents would feed them meals, they’d come to church with us, we’d celebrate holidays when they couldn’t get back home, and they stayed with us for two to three weeks at a time. And then a lot of schools have something like this with international students, so I thought to combine the two elements.”

And so the Diversity Center’s Host Family Program was created to provide a home away from home for UIS students.

“We started the program in hopes of giving our students new opportunities to engage with people here in the Springfield community. It provides a link and helps with the transition process,” Caldwell said.

Winters, who graduated in December 2009, studied Communication at UIS and played for the men’s basketball team. He has family members who own businesses, and he’d like to go into business for himself one day. Caldwell saw Thomas and his family as a perfect fit for Winters’ host family.

“It’s just been a really nice experience,” Winters said. “Helping each other is the way we’re all going to get ahead.”

To become part of the Host Family Program, both families and students fill out an application and are then matched up. The students then are able to spend time with members of the host family, such as having dinner at their home or talking with them about future goals.

Currently, seven students at UIS are participating in the program. Caldwell said he sees the program as mutually beneficial for both the students and local families.

“Some of the people in these host families are alums or people who are doing well in the business community, and some of our students are trying to get to the places where the host families have already been,” he said. “So there’s the whole networking aspect and building connections that might help them with a job after they graduate.”

“And I don’t want to understate the fact that it provides comfort outside of the classroom, which helps with the transition and ultimately retention of students,” he added. “We’re always looking for solid families to participate; it makes the experience here at UIS stronger and better.”

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Friday, December 11, 2009

UIS' Diversity Center director will be keynote speaker at Martin Luther King Jr. service

Dr. Clarice Ford, director of the Diversity Center at UIS, will be the keynote speaker for The Springfield Ministerial Alliance of Springfield and Vicinity’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative March and Memorial Service on Sunday, January 17, at Union Baptist Church, in Springfield.

The 18-minute march will begin with a brief meditation at 3 p.m. on Freedom Corner in front of the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. at 2nd Street and Capitol Avenue, where the Illinois State Library is located. Church, the Student Gospel Choir at UIS, will sing at the statue and lead the singing along the route. The march will proceed to Union Baptist Church, where the Ministerial Alliance Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Service will begin at 4 p.m. The UIS choir and the Southeast High School Gospel choir will perform there as well.

Ford was formerly the pastor of the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Rome, Georgia and was associate dean of Students at Berry College for five years. She earned a Ph.D. from Fielding University, Santa Barbara, California. She is a member of the NAACP, Eastern Star Miriam Chapter #47, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and Charter Member of the National Military Women Memorial, has earned the Pennsylvania Black Achiever Award and is a member of the Mayor’s Commission on Diversity and Human Relations.

Winners of the 2010 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Contest will deliver their essays during the Memorial Service. The essay contest is sponsored each year by the Alliance and is open to area elementary, middle school and high school students.

The event is open to the public.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Clarice Ford will speak at Springfield banquet

Dr. Clarice Ford, director of the UIS Diversity Center, will be a speaker at the 90th Anniversary Banquet for Calvary Baptist Church and the East Springfield Nehemiah Project for urban renewal. The event will be held August 23 at the Northfield Inn Conference Center at 2 p.m.

The Nehemiah Project built 25 affordable home new homes last summer. Thirty more are planned this summer.

Banquet tickets are $50.00 each. For ticket information, contact Calvary Baptist Church at (217) 544-1424 or calvarymbchurch@sbcglobal.net. A few tickets will also be available at the door.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Professor appointed to additional term on Springfield International Visitors Commission

Nancy Scannell, Associate Professor in the College of Business and Management, was reappointed by Mayor Timothy Davlin to the Springfield International Visitors Commission for an additional three-year term (through 2012).

Commission visitors are sent to Springfield via the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, as well as by a variety of other private and public agencies charged with developing professional programming visits for guests to the U.S.

The U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Program brings visitors to the U.S. who are current or potential leaders in their respective countries. They include politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, educators, doctors, lawyers and social service providers and are selected by American Foreign Service Officers overseas. Currently 47 Heads of Government and Chiefs of State Worldwide are alumni of the International Visitors Program, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Conference coordinator keeps busy outside of UIS

By Courtney Westlake


Grant Johnson
doesn’t settle for a life that revolves solely around his daytime job.

Johnson, who is a conference services coordinator, admits that he thoroughly enjoys his career as one of three coordinators that plans conferences and events in coordination with university departments, clubs, organizations and professors to plan and implement their events.

But besides his full-time job, Johnson also pursues a plethora of outside interests that keep him on his toes…literally.

“I’ve been dancing with the Springfield Ballet Company for the past 10 years,” he said. “My older brother was involved in theater and got me involved with the company. The ballet company was looking for additional men, so I met the director, and she asked if I could dance and I said ‘I've done some’.”

Johnson has been a featured performer and dancer with them for many productions.

“I’ve done numerous Nutcrackers. This year was 10th anniversary doing the Nutcracker,” he said. “I’ve done most of the storybook ballets: Swan Lake, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and other performances.”

As if that isn’t enough, Johnson has also been raising and showing Clydesdale draft horses with his parents for the past 20 years.

His family is primarily involved in the breeding aspect, and they also participate in local shows, such as the one held at the Illinois State Fair each August and the National Clydesdale Show in Milwaukee. Last year, they traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to take part in the World Clydesdale Show.

“It’s a family affair, something my family and I are very involved in,” Johnson said. “I just love working with the animals. I do a lot of the hands-on work with the horses; I do a lot of the showing. I love to give them attention and preparation for show. Just like an athlete needs to be trained or have practice, we have to do that with our horses.”

“I enjoy riding,” he added, “but I also like the traditional way of showing draft horses hitching the horses to a cart or wagon.”

Between his hobbies and full-time job, Johnson rarely gets a break, but he prefers it that way. Doing ballet, raising horses and especially working at UIS has allowed him to get to meet so many people.

“With my job I get to deal with so many entities and departments that I get to know numerous personnel,” he said. “I work with food services, building, electronic media, sometimes television, and other personnel around campus. Plus, I enjoy working with students to help them with their events to make them well-attended and successful. I like just making everyone happy and pleased with their event and showing off the university to the best of our ability."

Does he feel he is unique for having such a variety of interests?

“I don’t know if it's unique, but it keeps me busy,” he said with a laugh. “I enjoy being busy. Having horses is fulltime job in itself. We don’t live at our property, so we have to go out there twice a day, if not three times a day, to feed them and take care of them. It’s just something I really enjoy doing.”

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Friday, October 10, 2008

UIS Prairie offers sustainability and opportunities to university

By Courtney Westlake



The state of Illinois had 22 million acres of prairie up until the 1820s, but since European settlers moved into area, there are now less than 2,500 acres. Caring for the prairie areas that remain is now extremely important, such as the beautiful prairie located on the south area of the UIS campus.

“We have such small remnants of prairie still left,” said Dr. Tih-Fen Ting, assistant professor of Environmental Studies. “By losing this part of the native ecosystem, we also put out a lot of other species that are associated with prairie, whether it be birds, mammals or insects. We hope that we can increase biodiversity locally and also help species that still depend on prairie for survival and reproductive needs.”

Prairie is a French word meaning ‘meadow,’ Ting said. A prairie system is made up of lot of grasses and flower species and is very productive. Prairie grasses and forbs have deep root systems, and once a plant dies, its roots decompose and become part of the soil.

The prairie at UIS was established in 1991 by the student organization Students Allied for a Greener Earth (SAGE). Bob Raebig, who was a SAGE member and later became the environmental health and safety officer at UIS, played a tremendous role for the prairie restoration, Ting said, and when he passed away in 2004, Ting took responsibility of maintaining the prairie, along with help from Joan Buckles, UIS superintendent of grounds.

“We can use this as a living laboratory to teach students about the prairie and its ecosystem,” Ting said. “Even though it’s only three acres right now, it’s still a nice opportunity to have that living laboratory on campus for students to be able to learn more about a prairie ecosystem.”

Having a restored prairie on campus is beneficial not only to the campus community but to the environment and to sustainability in general.

“Sustainability is a broad issue in the sense that it involves not only environmental stewardship but social responsibilities and economic wellbeing,” Ting said. “There are many ecological benefits the prairie can provide. It increases biodiversity in a human-dominant landscape. And it does not preclude the opportunity for other species to be able to co-exist with us, which is important for sustainability.”

The prairie is also appealing for its aesthetic value and provides a natural setting for people to come, Ting said.

“It's such a beautiful place, and I think people will get inspiration for all kinds of work,” she said.

In the early days, a prairie was maintained by fires from lightning or grazing done by bison, Ting said. Now, UIS uses the method of fire-prescribed burns to maintain the health of the prairie ecosystem. The Friends of Sangamon Valley assists UIS in conducting species inventory and prescribed burns.

“Those are the ways to prevent trees, brushes and shrubs from taking over the prairie ecosystem. We try to mimic the natural force with controlled fires,” Ting said. “The fire will help release nutrients from vegetation back to the soil so it will enhance soil productivity and help other plants to grow. It also helps to control a lot of invasive species as well.”

The UIS prairie gives the campus community the opportunity to be immersed in a different kind of natural setting, Ting said.

“I encourage everyone to come here. It’s right on campus, on west side of the Strawbridge-Shepherd House,” she said. “There are beautiful species and grasses. You can come, meditate, take a nice walk, and it will probably help with your day.”

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Staff Members star in Civil War musical downtown

By Courtney Westlake



Ralph Shank typically wears his hair a little shorter, but it can now almost be tied into a ponytail, and his beard is quite thick as well. But it's not personal preference - the facial hair and long locks are all part of a 1860s period role in a local musical.

Ralph, multimedia specialist with Information Technology Services at UIS, and his wife Carly, program coordinator at Sangamon Auditorium, will be performing in the musical "The Civil War," which will be put on at the Union Square Park, located at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, from July 24 through July 27.

Carly will play Sarah McEwen, the only white female in the performance, and Ralph will be portraying Captain Billy Pierce, a captain in the confederacy.

"We went back and looked at pictures from the Civil War era, and there was usually a lot of hair, slicked down, curls in the back, and a lot of beards," Ralph said. "As captain of the confederacy, I'll be singing country for first time, so that should be interesting."

Carly's interest in the theater began when she was young, and she has been involved with numerous plays in the local community, having grown up in Riverton, as well as traveled with a theater company. She also has a degree in theater.

Ralph moved to Springfield from Austin, Texas, and his background is in music. He performed in his first play in 2004.

They now enjoy performing together when possible. Their upcoming play, The Civil War, is actually a Broadway musical, not just a local show, Carly said.

"I think there's a misconception in community that this is something that the museum put together," she said. "But it played on Broadway in the late 1990s. We have really characterized it as being a theatrical concert because it is primarily music."

"A lot of the lyrics and dialogue in the show are based on letters and speeches from civil war.," Ralph noted, but unlike many presentations about the Civil War, the music in this performance is not from the time period, Carly added.

"The creators really wanted to capture the spirit of the Civil War in a way modern audiences could relate too," Carly said. "The music is actually very poppy."

Most of the actors and singers involved in the show are very experienced, so they haven't had to hold the lengthy rehearsals that many productions do, Carly said.

"There is a large male chorus and African-American chorus," Ralph said. "They are just amazing, and they will blow your socks off with their performance. And then of course Carly has a beautiful voice as well."

The show's affiliation with the Presidential Museum and Library is really unique, Carly said.

"Most of people in show have experience in Muni, the Springfield Theatre Center and Theatre in the Park, but this is a nice endorsement by the library and museum," she said. "Hopefully it will be nice crossover for people who are really interested in exploring the theater of the Civil War and interested in the history aspect, as well as people who are just interested in shows and theater."

For tickets to the show, go online at abelincolnmuseum.org or call the box office at 558-8934.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Prairie Star takes over the radio

By Courtney Westlake



The brightly shining Prairie Star became radio-active today.

With support from the UIS Communication Department, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Division of Student Affairs, a new Internet radio station, called the Prairie Star, began broadcasting 24 hours a day today, February 14, from the UIS campus.

WUIS, a popular campus radio station and NPR affiliate, will continue its award-winning music and information programming, but the Prairie Star was created to provide a learning venue and creative outlet for UIS students, said Dr. Jim Grubbs, associate professor of communication at UIS. Last fall, the necessary funding was met to start the station with the proper equipment, music and programming.
"The Prairie Star is an idea that has been in process for about a year and a half," Grubbs said. "We were looking for something that could serve as a working laboratory for students, where they could get hands-on experience."

During business hours, the Prairie Star will play a broad, eclectic mix of favorites from the 1970s through today’s "lighter" hits along with full-length news and information features at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. that will come from several station partners, Grubbs said. There will also be mini-features every hour on the half hour.

"Then when we get to 3:00 in the afternoon, we send all the adults home and let the students take over," Grubbs laughed. "We're really going for an alternative rock format at that point. Part of the vision I see for us is to truly become a college station and to really be something you don't find anywhere else."

The weekends will bring a mix of specialty programs including music genres of root, folk, classical, traditional and classic and modern jazz.

Future goals for the station include moving into an expanded production facility, where students can come in and produce shows, Grubbs said.

"What we're really going for is a sense of community. Yes, primarily for students; that's why we're here," he said. "We want it to be fun, and we're looking for people to become involved who want that. For our students exploring career goals, we want to serve them too."

To listen to the Prairie Star station, go here. Click on the image of Radio Star, which is the station’s mascot, and you can then choose either the MP3 or Windows Media Internet stream. Only an Internet connection and your favorite media player is required to tune in. For further information, visit http://www.uis.edu/campusradio/ or e-mail campusradio@uis.edu.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Housing Director Enjoys Challenges in Position

By Courtney Westlake



He might not be here at 8:30 in the morning, but you can probably find him on campus at 8:30 at night. And getting a page at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning isn't atypical either.

John Ringle has been the director of housing and residential life at UIS for five years, coming in with the second class of Capital Honors students. Since arriving, he has seen tremendous change throughout the campus in terms of residential buildings.

"Every year since I've been here, there has been a new construction project in housing on campus," he said.

Ringle became involved with housing while working at a job moving furniture into overflow spaces as a temporary employee at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He became a resident director there, which also led him to Utah State and Boise State in directing positions, before coming to UIS.

"UIS fit what I was looking for in terms of a growing program and getting the opportunity to be a part of something that was growing over the next decade," he said. "And we're still growing."

UIS housing services includes the townhouses, apartments and Lincoln Residence Hall, in addition to the new residence hall currently under construction, Founders Hall, which will include a new bookstore, cafe and even classrooms. There is also a future goal for another residential building in 2010, compliant with the university's strategic plan, Ringle said.

"UIS' mission is to become one of the best small, public, liberal arts universities in the state, if not the country, and our job as housing is to make sure that mission gets supported," he said.

Though his day often runs anywhere from 9-12 hours, and he maintains constant communication with on-call staff, Ringle said he enjoys the challenges the job brings. He is quick to give recognition to his staff members, whom he says are very reliable and competent.

"I think probably the thing I like best is that it is ever-changing and ever-evolving," Ringle said. "No day is every the same. There is always a new challenge every day of the week, and sometimes the weekends."

One of the main reasons Ringle decided to get into the housing field was to have an impact on students, he said.

"Research shows that students who live on campus tend to persist to graduation, have higher GPA's and have a greater experience as a part of living on campus," he said. "You can't beat the fact that you're closer to faculty, staff, athletics - all the things that make the traditional four-year campus experience remarkable in terms of a student development perspective."

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Don't Make Excuses During Holiday Season

By Courtney Westlake



The holiday and winter season is the number one time for people to stray from their workout routine. But although schedules are more hectic with shopping, parties and out-of-town trips, with a little planning, you can ditch the excuses and remain on track with healthy living.

"It's an easy excuse for people to fall off the wagon, but don't just make it an excuse," said Amanda Jillson, assistant director of fitness and instructional programs at the Recreation and Athletic Center, or TRAC. "There's always ways to slip in a quick workout, such as taking the stairs at work. Stay focused on your workouts, stay focused on what you want in your lifestyle."

Exercise plays a huge role in healthy living because it helps with your overall well-being, Jillson said.

"Especially for students, we have a lot of things going on," she said. "Right now it's finals, so there is a lot of stress, and working out can help relieve some of that stress."

Jillson suggested interval training for a quick workout to get in strength conditioning and cardio. If you aren't able to make it to your gym, try crunches, pushups and lunges at home as part of your exercise routine. Eating habits also play a big part in healthy living, especially during the holidays, Jillson said.

"Maybe eat before you go to a holiday party; have a small meal before you go to the party, so you don't attack the snack table," she said. "Or just have a little sampling of each hors d'oeuvre or item, and you'll at least be on the road to success with party after party."

If you are wanting to add an exercise routine to your lifestyle or mix things up, Jillson encouraged the campus community to check out the TRAC.

"We have wonderful state-of-the-art equipment and personal training that will be at a significantly reduced rate than any other club you'll find in town," she said. "We also have group exercise programs, ranging from kick-boxing to yoga. It will help people get right back on track or at least help them understand why it's important to exercise and what they can be doing to reach their goals."

"Everyone does a New Year's Resolution," she added. "You might as well add health and fitness to it."

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Students Beat Alumni by 3 in Annual Game

By Courtney Westlake




Even with UIS Chancellor Richard Ringeisen on their team, the alumni of UIS couldn't pull off a victory against the team of current students.

Tuesday night's Student vs. Alumni basketball game proved close though, with a 3-point win by the students. The final score: 35 to 32.

The two teams started out with warm-ups and introductions in front of a small crowd of students, faculty, staff, friends and family. Several UIS men's and women's basketball players served as the referees for the friendly event.

Alumni, staff and faculty of all ages came out for the game, which was played in two 15 minute halves.

The game started with the students leading most of the first half, but the alumni came from behind to lead at halftime. The second half proved exciting, and the students were named the winners in the end.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Campus Celebrates TRAC Dedication

By Courtney Westlake


An emotional event. A blessing. A symbol and a metaphor. Students and staff each had varying descriptions for the opening of the new recreation and athletic center, but each agreed on one thing: they are proud.

On Wednesday, September 26, the University of Illinois at Springfield held a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the state-of-the-art recreation and athletic center (TRAC) in front of a packed crowd of campus and community members.

The ceremony was part of a full day’s worth of events at the new facility. The morning kicked off with the Sam Madonia Show broadcasting live from the atrium of TRAC, complete with interviews from Chancellor Richard Ringeisen, JT Timmons, director of recreational sports, Cynthia Thompson, director of student life, and more.

TRAC also held an open house Wednesday morning so that students, faculty, staff and members of the Springfield community could view the $16.2 million center that boasts a 3,000-seat performance arena, which converts into three basketball and volleyball courts, a multi-purpose exercise room, a suspended running track, new exercise machines and new televisions throughout.

The construction of the TRAC was made possible through student fees and a generous $1 million donation by the Hoogland Family Foundation of Charles and Kathleen Hoogland.

Several students and staff stood up to speak at the dedication.

"It's more than a recreation center; it's a symbol," said Bob Skorczewski, a graduate student and Student Government Association president. "And it's not only a symbol of the way UIS is moving, but for the youth in the state and the country. Whether it's something small like starting a small club on campus or building a new recreation facility, the students of UIS are doing things."

Ali Janezic, a third year volleyball player, was part of the first team to play a match in the new gymnasium.

"All of us student athletes have been looking forward to getting in here for a long time," she said. "Walking into TRAC is really a dream. I know that playing here is an honor for every student athlete. The opportunity to continue on with something we love in the midst of such growth on a campus that we love is truly a blessing."

A dedication picnic took place after the ribbon-cutting, with refreshments and music. More tours were also given of the facility and its impressive features.

"This is an institution that is rooted in its past, proud of its presence, and excited about its present," Ringeisen said.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New Recreation and Athletic Center Opens Its Doors

By Courtney Westlake



The day before the University of Illinois at Springfield’s new recreation and athletic center opened for the first time, its staff decided to take polls on the number of people they expected to come through.

“If it keeps up like it is, I think I might win,” laughed JT Timmons, director of recreational sports, who was excited on Tuesday morning not only because his prediction seemed to be on the mark but because the numbers were steady during the first few hours of the facility’s opening.


On Tuesday, September 18, the new recreation and athletic center (also known as the TRAC) opened its doors to the campus community after several years of planning. In 2003, students passed a referendum to build the new state-of-the-art center, Timmons said, and over the last several semesters, students have been paying a fee for the facility’s construction.

The recreation facility is part of the university’s strategic plan to create a more exciting campus for its students and employees. Timmons gives credit to the university administration for looking ahead to the mission of the university, which includes a component of wellness, recreation and athletics.

“To truly commit to that mission statement, such a facility was definitely needed on this campus,” he said, adding that there are two more phases for the center in the future. “There is tremendous growth going on, which further strengthens the need and support for a facility like this.”

Junior Erin Evangelista was one of the TRAC’s first users on its opening day. Evangelista, who is on the cheerleading squad for UIS, said she works out twice a day to get in shape for cheerleading season. She is impressed with the amenities the center has to offer, she said.


“I think it’s great,” she said. “There are a lot more machines, especially the adductor and abductor, which I love. And it’s brighter, which is what I really like when working out.”

The recreation and athletic center is located on the southern edge of campus, just west of Kiwanis Stadium. With 72,000 total square feet on two levels, students are able to enjoy three basketball and volleyball courts that can convert to a 3,000-seat performance arena, a running track, two racquetball courts, a large multi-purpose aerobics and exercise room, and cardiovascular and weight training areas.

Additionally, the TRAC’s gymnasium is now the new home to the Prairie Stars varsity men's and women's basketball teams and women's volleyball team. The volleyball team broke in the new gym its opening day with three matches throughout the afternoon and evening.

Although there were some delays with the recreation center, Timmons said that’s to be expected with a project of that size. Now that the facility is open for use, Timmons hopes students, faculty, staff and the public take advantage of the new machines, running track, gym and more.

“The response is hard to judge right now because the size of this facility is so much larger than the current Student Life Building center, but we've already seen an increase in memberships,” he said. “There is a lot more equipment in here; there are 17 TVs that are wired into cable. In general, I think people are really pleased with the aesthetics in here.”

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