Nothing common about Wilkerson Commons

Building becomes vital hub of campus life during Memorial Union reconstruction

With Wilkerson central to freshman housing and hosting a variety of Memorial Union offices, its 2015 renovations have been more essential than ever. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Seating is pleasant at Wilkerson Commons on the UND Campus, Grand Forks Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty wrote last week.

“The place is airy and light with windows all around,” she wrote. Food choices are “vast,” ranging widely “from pizza and burgers to Asian foods and roast turkey. … It was almost enough to make my head swim.”

And that’s no accident. In fact, it’s safe to say that if the transition to a new UND Memorial Union is seamless, then the previous transition that opened Wilkerson Commons on campus in 2015 will deserve a lot of the credit.

Today, Wilkerson Commons is a focal point, a building that’s about as close to being a Memorial Union as is possible without being a Memorial Union.

To start off, the building’s location — just across University Avenue from the Chester Fritz Auditorium — makes it a natural hub for students on their way to and from nearby residence halls.

Just as important, the building has offices, meeting rooms, study lounges, a campus convenience store and the Stomping Grounds coffee shop. The second floor boasts a full service dining room, one that features a spectacular view of campus through a curved wall of glass.

It’s the richness of those amenities that’s new. For before its renovation, what was then Wilkerson Hall was neither light nor airy nor had windows all around. Instead, the octagonal building — which had been built in 1969 — “used glass sparingly in response to the harsh North Dakota climate,” an architectural website notes.

The 2015 renovation not only improved improved and greatly expanded the building, but also made it much more inviting and attractive.

And just in time, it turns out, for the old Memorial Union’s demolition and the building of the new.

During the transition, Wilkerson Commons is the home of Student Involvement, Student Government, the PRIDE Center and the Food for Thought Food Pantry, among other services.

Gracie Lian and Matthew Ternus aim to lead the student body with a focus on notification – allowing easy access to information about changes on campus, and how to reach student services. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Wilkerson’s Room 181, which Student Body Vice President Matthew Ternus shares with Student Body President Gracie Lian and their staff, offers easy access to students. And with freshman housing focused on the Wilkerson Complex, Ternus says there are plenty of “bright and open” spaces within Wilkerson Commons to meet with students and faculty.

Regarding the Memorial Union’s reconstruction, “Student Government’s role will be that of messenger,” Ternus said, nodding to the “notification” element of his and Lian’s leadership platform.

“Having offices spread throughout campus will take some time to adjust to among new and returning students. We intend to use both social media and our student senators to disperse information about new locations and event spaces as best we can.”

Added Student Body President Lian, “if students new to campus have questions or concerns, we can be really accessible to them.

“This interim period is going to be using spaces and areas in ways that they maybe haven’t been before, but I think the capacity is there,” Lian said. “It’s going to be looking at campus in a different way.”