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Saturday, January 28, 2023

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UC to be known as Student Center starting Jan. 21


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Starting Jan. 21, the University Center will start to be known as the Student Center. | File photo/The Cougar

If you’re not new to campus, you’ve watched the new University Center come to life within the past few years. The new UC is a sparkling student sanctuary that features a new and improved bookstore, another Starbucks for caffeine-deprived students, more choices to eat and even a game room that has Cougars filling the Center to the brim.

By January, construction will be completed, and the UC will be re-christened as the Student Center South, the Student Center North and the Student Center Satellite. The name will become official after the grand opening ceremony which will take place on Jan. 21 with President Renu Khator and the Board of Regents. The opening will last 12 hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and will run concurrently with Cat’s Back, which will take place in the new Houston Ballroom.

Keith T. Kowalka, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Interim Director of the Center for Student Involvement, said the decision to change the name from University Center to Student Center was made in an effort to show students they had a place on campus.

“This is the pseudo-living room of the University for students,” Kowalka said. “UC signifies it’s a building for the university campus, and SC signifies that it’s a building more exclusively for students. We want to continue to underscore the fact that we are building this for them.”

Student Government Association Vice President Erica Tat is the New UC Student Chair and has worked on the project since the center was literally underground.

“To see this transformation in front of my eyes is unbelievable,” Tat said.

Tat was one of the students behind the decision to change the name and said she thinks it’s a perfect fit.

“We practically fill every single nook and cranny of this building, and I think ‘Student Center’ perfectly describes what you’ll see,” Tat said. “ At first, we are going to be used to saying the UC’ or ‘University Center’ but I think the name change will catch up very quickly.”

The $80 million renovation project was entirely student driven, from the carpet and tile to the furniture. A “word cloud” that lines the entire back wall of the south building is the epitome of the student-inspired face-lift. Students from the UH Policy Board, the board in charge of the center, chose 90 words to describe the University of Houston experience, and filled the wall with them.

“It’s really special for me being an administrator that works with students,” Kowalka said. “As you look around the building, you can see students’ fingerprints on everything.”

Students both designed and funded the project. 95 percent of current student fees are responsible for funding the renovation.  Three years after the master plan was unveiled, in 2010 fees jumped from $35 to $85, with $50 going towards the project. The next bump happened in 2012 with an increase from $85 to $135, of which $100 was taken to pay for the project. Kowalka said the current student fee rate will stay at $135 for the next 22 years, and after the bond is paid off, fees will go back down to $35 per semester.

It took a referendum and students to testify before the Austin Senate and the Higher Education Committee to raise the ceiling for student fees, allowing UH a new $150 limit.

Kowalka said he is excited for students to attend the grand opening in January and hopes everyone will get the memo: the UC is now the SC, or the Student Center, effective Jan. 1.

“Whenever you change a name to a building, there’s always some small confusion, and our hope is that we are going to mitigate as much as possible,” Kowalka said. “We’re really about making sure students have a peak experience here in the SC.”

Tat said that for her, the name change is symbolic of the new center as a “home away from home.”

“No matter how it is nicknamed, it is one of those places where you are sure to find students coming together, maybe to chat, eat or to grab a cup of coffee,” Tat said. “It is a way of showing that our students matter on this campus.”

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