It may seem unusual for college students to work on a campus planning or development project for another institution, but Clemson and South Carolina State University students have teamed up on just such an idea.

In fall 2015, two landscape architecture students and landscape architecture professor Paul Russell worked with S.C. State students and faculty to develop a long-range master plan development strategy for the Orangeburg campus. A major suggestion coming from the study was a new student life center to be located in the heart of the campus.

Clemson and S.C. State students meet on the Orangburg campus to talk about architectural ideas for a new student center.

Clemson and S.C. State students meet on the Orangeburg campus to talk about architectural ideas for a new student center.
Image Credit: Clemson University

So this past spring, 31 Clemson students developed architectural designs that could help make the new center a reality, or at least provide ideas for S.C. State administrators and trustees to explore further.

The project, through the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities Community Research and Design Center, was part of a comprehensive studio course for graduate students in their final semester, co-taught by architecture faculty Dustin Albright, Ufuk Ersoy and Ulrike Heine.

Working in small teams, the students prepared 15 designs based on the master plan developed by Russell’s team in 2015 and their own first-person research on S.C. State’s campus.

Clemson and S.C. State have a lot in common. Founded about seven years apart, both are land-grant institutions established to teach agricultural and mechanical arts to young people and provide information and help to families and communities through Extension networks — although the populations they originally served reflected South Carolina’s segregated society. Both schools desegregated in the 1960s, and S.C. State remains South Carolina’s only public historically black college or university.

Both schools also have a strong military heritage (S.C. State continues to be one of the nation’s leading producers of minority Army officers) and highly competitive athletics programs (Clemson’s football team will host S.C. State in September).

One of the students who worked on the design project was Sarah Glass, who — like most of the Clemson students in the class — had never been to S.C. State prior to taking the studio. But she found similarities between the two institutions, noting that both have “an empowered student body and invested faculty. Both have a strong family tradition and foster a strong community among students and alumni.”

In the spring, Glass and her classmates met with more than 30 S.C. State students, faculty, staff and trustees, toured the campus and held a planning charrette to identify priorities. One of those trustees involved in the site visit was Clemson Provost Emerita Dori Helms. It was Helms who originally pitched the idea to her former boss, President Emeritus Jim Barker, now a professor in the School of Architecture. That conversation got the ball rolling that eventually led to the service-learning project.

“Usually the projects students work on in the studio are hypothetical,” Russell said. “In this case, however, they have actually met the clients and learned about the culture and what’s important to the students and alumni, which makes the students more thoughtful and serious about the work. They want to come up with concepts that the university can use. Most of our students said it was the best site visit they’d ever had because the S.C. State students were so engaged and enthusiastic.”

Clemson and S.C. State students chat after a meeting on the Orangeburg campus to talk about architectural ideas for a new student center. A 3-D model is seen in the foreground.

Clemson and S.C. State students chat after a meeting. One of the models presented is seen in the foreground.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Helms enlisted the help of Tamara Jeffries-Jackson, S.C. State’s vice president for student affairs, to coordinate the initial meetings and provide the Clemson group with survey data from the S.C. State student body.

One of the ideas that emerged from the landscape architecture project was the idea of creating a new entrance to the campus. Currently, the school shares an entrance with Claflin University, a private historically black college adjacent to S.C. State. The proposed concept would establish a clearer entry that more prominently showcased S.C. State’s student center.

The landscape design work helped define a natural “next step” project for the architecture students to tackle: Designing a new or renovated student center.

“The current facility is 40-plus years old and lacks many amenities that the 21st century student — the millennial — would appreciate,” Jeffries-Jackson said. “A new center would also create a stronger sense of community and create additional places for students to gather and build lasting relationships beyond the library and residence halls.”

The current facility, built in the 1960s, is used less and less, which is something that campus groups want to see change.

“There is a strong desire for a renovated structure among current students and alumni, who remember the original facility with great fondness as a major center of activity,” Albright said.

The existing facility is mostly one large ballroom and some offices, and students would prefer to have a central place with hang-out spaces and meeting rooms for clubs and organizations that are now spread all across campus.

“We compiled a list of items that the students saw in need of improvement based on our meeting with the students,” Glass said. “This included healthy meal options, a 24-hour access gym, and student organization offices. Overall, students prioritized three things: better food, a fitness facility and places to gather socially.”

“The students at S.C. State deserve a place to showcase their talents,” Glass said. “They are a vibrant group of people with a lot of potential.”

Students on both campuses understand that the designs may never be constructed, but they hope the project can lead to real change on the Orangeburg campus.

“Some of the designs may be too bold or ambitious, but it’s an idea competition,” Heine said. “Maybe none of the ideas is perfect, but there will be concepts that can help administrators and trustees visualize what is possible.”

But Jeffries-Jackson says the center is a high priority for the administration and trustees as it will support efforts to increase enrollment and retention.

“It is my hope that the projects presented provide a variety of options for consideration of a new student center at S.C. State and that the collaboration and partnership between the two schools continues beyond the conclusion of the presentations,” she said.