Amid the Buzz and Excitement of Homecoming, UM Dedicates Its Student Center Complex

The Student Center Complex is comprised of the 119,000-square-foot Student Activities Center, renovated Whitten University Center, redesigned UC Patio, and the U Statue.

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 07, 2013) — Inside the newsroom of The Miami Hurricane, Erika Glass, the student newspaper’s multimedia editor, was about to sit down in front of her computer to hammer out a story for the next edition. “What I like about our new space in the Student Activities Center, is that it’s a true newsroom,” said Glass. “It’s allowed us to be much more productive and efficient.”

Not far from her publication’s second-floor office, students sat at tables outside the renovated Whitten University Center, some of them talking with classmates, others reading textbooks, or enjoying an afternoon snack.

And over on the Foote Green, students joined alumni and employees in taking pictures in front of the 7-foot-tall U Statue that has become one of the most recognized landmarks on campus.

As they have since the beginning of the fall 2013 semester, the components of the University of Miami’s Student Center Complex buzzed with activity on Thursday. But what made the day special was that the UM community—from administrators and trustees to alumni, donors, and students—gathered for the official dedication of the complex that Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely described as “transformational.”

“Today, we recognize an age-old notion that a dream can become a reality,” Whitely said at the ceremony, which was held inside the SAC’s third-floor grand ballrooms with more than 400 in attendance—some of them in town for the University annual Alumni Weekend and Homecoming activities.

• For information about Alumni Weekend and Homecoming events, click here.
• To view a video about the Student Center Complex and the Student Activities Center, click here.

For some in the audience, it was their first time seeing the sprawling Student Center Complex, the crown jewel of which is the 119,000-square-foot Student Activities Center.

Student Center Complex
Seen here illuminated at night, the 119,000-square-foot Student Activities Center includes a media suite that houses The Miami Hurricane, Ibis yearbook, and Distraction magazine; offices and cubicles for student organizations; a study lounge that’s open 24/7, and a new Rathskeller.

“More than any other building on campus, the Student Activities Center is the house that ’Canes built,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala. “It’s allowed us to become a true residential campus…and it is a building about people and for people.”

A $20 million lead gift from the Fairholme Foundation, as well as a 2006 referendum in which students voted overwhelmingly to impose a fee on themselves, made the center possible. Other gifts funded everything from student organization suites to a patio and terrace.

Student organizations began moving into the building in August. Among its features: a media suite that houses The Miami Hurricane, Ibis yearbook, and Distraction magazine; offices and cubicles for student organizations; a study lounge that’s open 24/7, and a new Rathskeller. It was designed by Arquitectonica and built by Fort Lauderdale-based Moss & Associates.

The center, along with the U Statue and refurbished Whitten University Center and UC Patio, has united the student body—a fact Marcia McNutt, president of the Graduate Student Association, reiterated during Thursday’s dedication event. “Our organization’s mission is to increase a sense of unity among graduate students, ad the Student Center Complex has helped make that possible by providing a central location,” she said.

Jenna Winchester, president of the Student Bar Association, called the SAC “a wonderful place” that’s allowed law students to “step outside our four walls and feel we’re truly a part of the student body.”

Bhumi Patel, president of Student Government, said she’s noticed more and more students taking advantage of the facility, whether preparing for exams in the new study lounge or eating at the Rat. “It’s the jewel of our campus,” she said.

Tracey Berkowitz, of the Fairholme Foundation, credited students for passing the referendum that has, in part, funded the SAC’s construction. “If it weren’t for their efforts, we wouldn’t be standing here today,” she said, her husband Bruce at her side.

The Student Center Complex has lived up to its promise of serving as an ideal venue for student-related events. Between August 19 and October 31, the complex hosted 2,505 events, 816 of which were in the SAC, 873 in the University Center, and 816 around outdoor spaces like the breezeway, patio, and Rock.

“Many thousands visit every day for meetings, events, and just to socialize, plus many more visit the Rathskeller, Starbucks, and the other retail spaces,” said Daniel Westbrook, executive director of the Whitten University Center and Student Activities Center.

Xavier Cortada and Sebastian the Ibis
Sebastian the Ibis and UM alum and renowned Miami artist Xavier Cortada celebrate the unveiling of the digital tapestry Cortada created for the Student Activities Center's third floor.

Earlier in the day, UM alumnus and world-renown Miami artist Xavier Cortada officially unveiled “Flight of the Ibis,” the 15-foot by 30-foot digital tapestry he created for the third-floor atrium of the Student Activities Center. Depicting a number of stylized ibis, some which Cortada photographed on campus, the three-panel fabric mural pays tribute to the character of the marsh bird on which the University’s mascot is based. As the legend goes, ibis are always the last to leave before a hurricane, and the first to reappear after danger passes—the kind of risk-taking optimism Cortada said the U has imbued in generations of students, including himself.

“In many ways, that’s what this University allows us to be because it’s like a mangrove forest that protects us, that nurtures us, that cares for us, and I think it is our responsibility, once we take flight and do whatever we do in our lives, to come back,’’ said Cortada, A.B. ’86, M.P.A. ’91, J.D. ’91, who has left his own indelible mark on the University and beyond. A member of Iron Arrow and a former speaker of the student Senate, his conscience-raising art installations have graced venues and locales as diverse as the White House and the World Bank and Switzerland and Cyprus.

Robert C. Jones Jr. can be reached at 305-284-1615. Senior Editor Maya Bell also contributed to this report.

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From left, Marcia McNutt, president of the Graduate Student Association; Bhumi Patel, president of Student Government; and Jenna Winchester, president of the Student Bar Association, explain how the Student Center Complex has transformed the Coral Gables campus.

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