Building community and moving through a pandemic in the Emory Student Center

Ben Perlman, director of the Emory Student Center (ESC) operations and events, recently presented at the November InfoForum, where he talked about the successes and challenges of opening a facility right before a global pandemic.

Before the pandemic, the new facility was on track for 10,000 meetings and events. They also received the highest satisfaction scores for dining in the 13-year history of the survey. He also praised the Emory Libraries digital signage team for including the ESC in the early discussions for digital signage and received over 100 digital sign requests in just the first semester of operation with the new signs. The student center has enjoyed positive feedback on the move to 24×7 access.

In terms of peer recognition, the ESC received a slew of awards, including:

  • LEED Platinum certification – Emory’s first facility to receive this designation
  • Association of College Unions International’s 2020 Facility Design Award – Large Construction category
  • Platinum Building team Award 2020 – Building Design + Construction Magazine
  • Best Higher Education/Research Project 2020 – Engineering News Record Southeast
  • Architectural and Interior Design Citation of Excellence – Learning By Design Magazine

Said Ben, “The LEED award is a real testament to Emory’s commitment to sustainability and the teamwork between so many divisions in the University that made it happen.”

Once the pandemic came to Atlanta, Ben and his team were faced with the significant challenge of operation a building that by design is open and usable during a time when access must be locked down. Access, office space for staff, dining and cleaning were all significant hurdles. One major success was the purchase of furniture for outdoor dining that enabled the space to safely stay open, in a limited capacity, for the students.

“Being the only game in town [for food service on campus] meant that we had to pay close attention to social distancing 24×7,” said Ben. “The burden of enforcement was on our student staff, however our professional staff also helped, and we even got assistance from coaches from our athletic teams during meal periods.”

Added Ben, “As a leader, I want my people to feel safe and supported but I also want my students to feel safe and supported as well. Sometimes this causes conflict so it’s a constant challenge to balance the two.”

If you would like to hear Ben’s full presentation, as well as terrific presentations from Dana Bryant regarding Canvas and senior Vice President Josh Newton regarding Advancement and Alumni Engagement, you can watch the rebroadcast of the InfoForum HERE.

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