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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 26, 2002

A vision for better dorm life

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

The excited crowd of more than 1,000 that gathered Monday night at the University of Hawai'i's Campus Center to hear veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas offered a glimpse of what campus life could be like.

The excitement of a good speaker, the chatter of ideas afterward, the people who overflowed the ballroom, meeting friends and exchanging hugs, was exactly what the campus should look like. Every night of the week.

It was a vision of possibility, a look into a future that both President Evan Dobelle and Chancellor Peter Englert are eager to deliver. It's a future that brings people back on campus for afternoon and evening entertainment. A future that delivers a powerful sense of excitement, action and activity.

When Englert spent three weeks in the dorms in late August, examining what the campus was — and wasn't — it gave him a powerful view of what was possible.

"When I walked through the area I couldn't lose the impression there is separation," Englert said. "We would like to combine student life, activities, tutoring, teaching in such a way that it's integrated, that it crosses the campus. I found out what is not there, and from that I could envision what could be there."

That vision won't be easy to accomplish, and Englert is the first to acknowledge that. In fact, he talks of exploring the ideas and needs of all the constituencies on campus, but also about looking toward the University of California-San Diego for inspiration. There, the academic and residential experience occurs at once. Honors students study and live in the same environs, bringing a new kind of intellectual excitement to campus.

They also generate excitement in the midst of campus — something UH has long needed.

"If we want to build new student dorms that fit the new concept of education and the modern functionality we expect a university should fulfill, we'll have to either amend our old environments or create new environments that have that as a pervasive characteristic," Englert said.

"Student life is a key issue for this university, and it is a high priority for me. But I don't want to just go into action. What I want to do is come to something that provides a permanent, sustainable improvement of this area, so that we can be proud of it in the end. I'm not looking for a quick fix here and a little maintenance there. I'm looking for something more fundamental."

It means that whenever new dorms are contemplated at UH — and that will be soon because the Legislature earmarked $30 million last year to rebuild Frear Hall — they will be created with a new consciousness. There has already been talk of looking at the Frear Hall location as a potential site for a residential Honors College. Or, alternatively, bringing the potential Honors College right into the heart of campus, where instruction and curriculum activities could be integrated with living arrangements.

Already Englert has been talking with professors and students from the School of Architecture about such early ideas.

"I have no solutions yet," Englert said, "only thoughts.

"When we start to create new models and new approaches and we test them, we're talking about something that will take two or three years time. Something that has to get the approval and find the interest of the students, regents and state government."

Reach Beverly Creamer at 525-8013 or bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.