UND’s elegant home for graduate students

The oldest, newest and now loveliest building on campus, the Gershman Graduate Center opens Aug. 2

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Graduate students and graduate faculty have a new home on campus.

The Gershman Graduate Center opens next week, thanks to an extensive renovation of the Stone House, an elegant Victorian home that once housed UND’s presidents.

It’s a generous gift from Kathy and Hal Gershman, whose vision for a place for graduate students to gather, work, and attend events has now come to life.

Kathy Gershman retired in 2015 as professor and former chair of the UND Department of Educational Foundations and Research. She began serving as a member of UND’s faculty in 1984. Hal Gershman, a 1966 UND graduate and 2006 Sioux Award recipient, is a successful Grand Forks business owner and former president of the Grand Forks City Council. Both have been active civic and philanthropic leaders in the community.

“Hal and I have always been interested in seeing old buildings saved that have charm and a certain tradition,” Gershman said. “So after about two years of discussion, we hoped the old Oxford House would be a good location for a graduate center. Seeing this building come to life is a dream come true for Hal and me.”

“This home was referred to as one of the most beautiful buildings in the Midwest,” said Hal Gershman. “Our objective was to try to do that again. This building will be here for another hundred years.”

“Our intent was to restore the most beautiful building on campus in order that it be used as a gathering place for graduate students,” said Kathy Gershman when they announced the gift. “The center will be a welcoming and intellectually stimulating place and a point of pride on our historic campus.”

“It’s not possible to thank Kathy and Hal enough,” said Chris Nelson, associate dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “It’s going to make a big difference in building a sense of community among graduate students. It’s something we now have that a lot of bigger universities with bigger budgets can’t offer.”

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

“A big deal”

Nelson said he would have liked such a space when he did his graduate work.

“I went to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana for my Ph.D.,” Nelson said. “There was no space like this, dedicated to graduate education. This is a big deal.”

Graduate study requires in-depth study, which can often be isolating.

“Graduate study has changed, and we need to do this for our students,” Nelson said. “I want to hold mixers where space studies and English students can share their passions. This will support multiple uses, all of which are important. It will be a hangout, a place for group and individual study. It will host dissertation and thesis defenses, talks, and offer professional development for students.”

Nelson said that in a recent study on the wellbeing of graduate students, the Council of Graduate Schools found that many students struggle.

“Students are juggling work, family, isolation, and face years of effort,” Nelson said. “Space like this can help students realize they’re not alone. It’s very helpful when they’re able to talk to other students.”

Nelson said the renovation will help recruit graduate students.

“We want prospective students to see everything we provide to support and advance graduate student work,” Nelson said. “Students can come here to do their work in beautiful surroundings that have all the technology they need. The things we can do to support students are almost limitless. Everything is in one spot, and that helps build community.”

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

A show-stopper

The oldest building on campus, the renovated Gershman Graduate Center was built in 1902 as home to the University’s fourth president, Webster Merrifield. His wife, Elizabeth Bull Merrifield, an heiress to the Cream of Wheat fortune, paid for much of the construction and furnishings. Described as one of the most fashionable homes in the Midwest, it was designed by architect Joseph Bell DeRemer, who also designed Merrifield Hall and portions of the North Dakota State Capitol, along with other buildings in Grand Forks.

It housed UND presidents until 1955, when President George Starcher moved into a new official residence on campus, and then served as a dormitory and the home of the art department. After a 1981 renovation, it was renamed the J. Lloyd Stone Alumni Center and used by the UND Alumni Association & Foundation until the Gorecki Alumni Center was built.

The renovation is a show-stopper.

The main floor is a Victorian showplace, with formal décor and furniture, restored to its original glory. And instead of being off-limits, students are invited to sit on the antique furniture, attend lunches and dinners served in the formal dining room, browse the lending library, and use the piano for recitals and other functions.

“The first floor has a formal, 19th-century feel, but we want it to be used, full of life and fun, as a student hangout,” said Nelson. “One of the struggles we have in graduate education is building a sense of community among students.”

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

A student lounge downstairs invites students to visit by the fireplace, use the kitchen, get coffee, and study. Open from 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, it’s meant to be a home away from home for grad students and faculty.

The enormous hallway on the second floor is now a study space, and two conference rooms will offer space for dissertation and thesis defenses, along with the technology to accommodate distance and online students and faculty.

The former ballroom on the top floor is now a conference room for professional development workshops, graduate seminars, and more. It can seat up to 48 people at round tables, or convert to theatre-style seating.

Nelson sees it as space for students to present research, attend brown-bag talks, hone their speaking skills, and meet alumni and industry partners.

“It’s impossible to pick a favorite part of the new Gershman Graduate Center,” Nelson said. “In supporting multiple uses, all of which are equally important, the Center enables us to assist in preparing students for success at UND and in their respective futures. We couldn’t be more excited to open the space!”

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Tour the Gershman Center

There will be several opportunities to tour the Gershman Graduate Center.

  • Public tours are set for Thursday, July 29, 5-6 p.m.
  • Tours of the Center begin Aug. 3 and will continue through the semester. Walk-ins cannot be accepted due to space limitations; sign up here.
  • A graduate student welcome picnic will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 23. Graduate students can stop by and explore the new building while enjoying a picnic lunch, outdoor games, door prizes, and giveaways. Special guests and donors, Dr. Kathy and Hal Gershman, will greet and welcome students into the new space.
  • Open houses for faculty and staff will be held Friday Sept. 10 and 24, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • If you can’t tour in person, a virtual tour is available. Watch it below: