Putting Students First with the University Y

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The University Y Student Center is a project that has been supported by students since even before it became a concept design in 2012; now it has become a reality. Students consistently held a crucial role in all of this, and the outcome is a facility specifically built to meet students' needs.

A space designed with students in mind. In a campus facility study commissioned by Vice Chancellor for Student Enrollment Services Cedric Howard in 2008, this was the most requested campus feature. "Something like 98% of students said ‘yes we want this facility’, that’s what we heard at every step of the way," says Ed Mirecki, dean of student engagement at UW Tacoma.

Students pose for photos in the NCAA regulation court, customized for UW Tacoma. | Photos by Cody Char

The university considered its options, creating a potential budget and trying to find a suitable community partner. How could UW Tacoma build an affordable space with everything that students needed?

Shortly after UW Tacoma’s late Chancellor Debra Friedman arrived at the university in 2011, she brought a vision of two community-fueled organizations working together. The UW Tacoma and YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap County partnership was born. From it came the University Y Student Center, opening January 1.

The partnership alone was not enough to support the project. In a student body survey, 80% of students who voted said that they would be willing to pay more in fees to have this facility built. This was approved by an official student vote.

“We’re creating a really unique and exciting experience, but also the reality is that students are paying for this,” says Mirecki.

As the university called together more local help to design and make this facility a reality. Mirecki says UW Tacoma constantly tried to keep the project on-budget. “We tried to cut out the frills, but we also wanted to develop and deliver a product that was something our campus could be proud of.”

Building a facility that would benefit the students enough to be worthwhile was something Mirecki said weighed heavily on decisions made around the project. “(These are) real students with real lives and real financial responsibilities, but what’s the experience worth? There have been a lot of discussions around that.”

The University Y is living up to the expectations of many, and as the facility is getting the final bits and pieces done, Mirecki is sure that the university has created a space specifically for students. “It’s a new space we’ve created for students to come together.” The University Y is unique on campus, Mirecki says, in that it’s been specifically “designed for students.”

Students cool down by the rock wall.

Students who were involved in the execution of the project find it hard to believe how far it has come in such a short amount of time. Former ASUWT president Elizabeth Pierini, ’13, says, “It’s a surreal experience. Something I was gathering funds for and doing feasibility studies on is opening to the community.”

Pierini was heavily involved in hunting down the funds for this project, and she worked closely with Chancellor Friedman to do so. Between stepping in as student representation, asking for funds, and working with Chancellor Friedman to raise money, student leadership helped find a way to financially support this project.

Pierini points out that even though this building is student-centric, it is also a large step forward for the university in the community. “I’m just excited we’re getting up that hill!” she says.

Pierini is confident that the university made the right choice for a partner, saying, “The YMCA, in my experience, has been nothing but exceptional in this partnership.” She also credits their work, along with Chancellor Friedman’s, with expediting the process to make this building a reality. The building went from concept to completion in just two years, “largely unheard of” in the world of higher education, says Mirecki.

Rai Nauman Mumtaz started as a student at UW Tacoma in 2005 and was heavily involved in the planning of this facility, participating on multiple committees including the Student Center Planning Committee and the Services and Activities Fee Committee.  

Students trying yoga, one of the classes that will be offered at the University Y.

“I was blessed to be one of the few students who has seen the student center evolve as an idea (that came) from students from the very beginning.” Mumtaz says. The fact that it is now a very real facility, to be opened within the week, is “remarkable and humbling at the same time,” he says.

Mumtaz says that he felt privileged to have been able to present the budget proposal along side Friedman. “She played an integral role in ensuring students pay as little as possible for the building,” says Mumtaz.

This student-fueled facility has many priorities for the campus packed inside. Gathering spaces and fitness center options are full of potential to be put to good use by students. Mirecki says he is very excited to see how the space gets used — both the fitness space and the space set aside for student activities.

Many students thought this facility was worth it every step of the way. And with access to this, and the nine other YMCAs in Pierce and Kitsap counties, students are moving forward into the new year with a brand new facility, and the university is moving forward into a wealth of new opportunities.

Written by: 
Makayla Woods / December 30, 2014
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu