The biggest gathering at Kendall College of Art and Design is Halloween. There’s a costume contest, there’s food, everyone comes to it. On most other days of the year, the school is empty.
The dialogue and personality class at Kendall College of Art and Design is solving community and student life issues the same way they solve design problems. This wasn’t the obvious choice for a school project, Zoe Carmichael, the class professor, wrote in an email. She went on to say the process of deciding what problem to solve took a while, but what the students did know at the beginning of the semester was that they wanted to pursue a college related issue.
“It’s a huge deal, it affects us, we’re experts at it. That’s why we chose to go after student life at Kendall,” said Phil Han, a student in the class.
They started their design process with research, making a survey and advertising it, asking students to fill it out. So far, 80 students have taken the survey, and the class is using the data to find out what sort of improvements would matter most to students. On a scale of one to five, 54 percent of students ranked their experience at Kendall a four, and 34 percent ranked their experience a three. In response to the question “From what you learned at orientation, has student life been what you expected?” 51 percent of students answered “no.”
The survey asks students to elaborate on their experiences. Many students wrote that they would like more activities to bring students together, and many expressed that the facilities were not adequate, given the price of tuition. “There’s not nearly enough space, or available supplies, or social areas, or non-art based activities, or reasonable degrees to obtain for the amount we pay for everything. Student housing and parking is a joke, and there’s not even a gym available on campus, or affordable decent food. Fact is, we have some buildings where things happen during the day. This is not a campus,” wrote one student. Another student saw the problem with student life as being caused in part by students and wrote, “Kendall has many people that are introverts, stay to themselves and do not want to interact, not all but many more than any other place I have been [the people who do talk agree] wish there were more interactive groundbreaking things to do inside and outside of class to break these barriers. “In answering different survey questions, at least 12 students mentioned 24 hour studio access as a way to improve student life at Kendall. “Even Grand Valley allows 24 hour studio access for their art students and they are a standard university. This is an art college, yet we are being oppressed from making our art,” wrote one student.
Students are not alone in believing that there is a problem with student life at Kendall. “I think from people who start here,” Dr. David Rosen, president of the school said, “and who progress, stay here for four to six years to get their degree or come here from another art institution…what they will find is some things which are compromising to a community that’s really struggling to be all that it can be as an art and design school.” Rosen said that based on the National Survey of Student Engagement, Kendall is average, but could be better. As an art and design conservatory type of school, student engagement should be very high.Rosen also believes that food and housing are issues for the school, and mentioned his ideas about improving them, one of which was building a dorm in the area where the parking lot is. The lack of affordable housing near Kendall leaves some students to commute daily from Holland or Muskegon, which can be a distraction from learning. Unmet basic needs are a distraction, says Rosen, and learning is more effective when those are met.
The class divided the issue into different parts of the whole, making a large-scale group project into manageable, individual work. Some students are working on a proposal for renovations to the student commons, which include adding a cafeteria and more soft seating. They also propose moving the library to a larger space and adding seating and quiet study areas.
The students realize that not all of their proposals will be put into action. “Because the students are taking on several areas of needed improvement, I do not think it is realistic to think that every solution will be implemented. They are well aware that this is only a proposal,” wrote Zoe Carmichael, in an email.
One thing that the class has found is the presence of free pizza in student life at Kendall. Most advising days, school events, and club meetings feature free pizza. “I was going to go home, but then I smelled pizza, so I stayed,” said one member of the class, of a school event. At an event hosted by the class to learn about what students want, several attendees were disappointed that there wasn’t pizza, despite the fact that there was free candy and pop. “If Kendall had a mascot, it would be a slice of pizza,” wrote one student in a blog post on tumblr.
Maybe a guy in a pizza suit is exactly what Kendall needs to improve student life.
Tomorrow at 1:30, in room 217 of the federal building, the dialogue and personality class will be presenting their design solution. Any Kendall students who are interested in the future of their school should be sure to check it out. The facebook event page is here.