Comfort. Convenience. Community.
UND’s new and renovated residence halls do their best to make students feel safe and at home
Lukas Metropoulos may be a long way from his Chicago roots, but the junior is making himself and others feel right at home inside UND’s brand-new McVey Hall.
“There’s loads of transition when you’re going from high school to college, especially for those coming from far away,” Metropoulos said. “You’re going from having your parents pretty much right by your side every day after school to being possibly hours away now and maybe coming home after a stressful day at work or a long day of classes and projects to a completely different living space and a roommate you may have just met.”
It can be an empty and uncomfortable feeling at times, yet it’s not an uncommon one for college freshmen faced with new surroundings and so many changes all at once.
Metropoulos says that’s why nurturing an engaging environment is one of the most important parts of his job as a community assistant with UND Housing & Residence Life. He works alongside a team of a dozen resident assistants and a full-time, live-in hall manager.
“We want students to be able to walk in here and feel like, ‘Yes, this is my space and comfort zone,’ versus just a room in a building I happen to live in,” he said. “We want them to feel like they have a place where they can wind down, totally decompress and relax — a place where they can feel safe, where they feel important and where their voices are heard.”
Of course, that’s always been the goal, said UND Housing & Residence Life Director Troy Noeldner, but achieving it is that much easier when you pair a strong sense of community with optimum comfort and convenience.
New, new … and much improved
Student life programming always has been good, Noeldner said, but some of the residence halls were ready for an upgrade or refresher. The original McVey Hall first opened to students in 1965, and neighboring Brannon Hall — which recently underwent its own major renovations and UND branding — opened the same year. Like McVey, the original West Hall (1964) was demolished in 2021 to make room for the construction of West (The Second) as part of the University’s plan to right-size its residence hall housing stock.
Noeldner says construction on West is moving at a steady clip, and the building is on track to welcome students by the start of fall semester. Once complete, the five residence halls of Wilkerson Complex — including Selke and Noren, along with the Wilkerson Commons & Dining Center — will house about 1,700 students, a number roughly equal to UND’s average first-year student population.
All together, the complex will form its own “mini” freshman city that will be connected entirely by indoor passageways at the ground level. Already gone are the drafty underground utility tunnels some parents may remember — and gone with them, their cold concrete walls and outdated artwork.
“This complex is far and beyond anything I experienced as an undergraduate at Colorado State University,” Noeldner said. “Years ago, residence halls were much tighter on space. They were all about just giving students a place to sleep. Today’s students want their college experience to be more than that. They want more amenities and more social spaces.”
Rather than the old-school model of separate sleeping quarters and centralized bathrooms, Noeldner said UND’s residence halls soon will be about 95 percent suite-style — a statistic he says not too many other campuses can claim.
“When UND started talking about this capital project a few years ago, we knew we not only wanted to bring our first-year student living experience up to modern standards, but we also needed to meet the demands of a more competitive higher education market,” he explained. “Our degree programs attract students from around the globe, and schools everywhere are competing for those same students. Some of these more premier housing options can give us a unique advantage in recruiting them.”
For starters, the suites are sweet
Step into one of McVey’s spacious, yet homey, four-student suites and you’ll know why. Natural light spills through the oversized windows, which also are equipped with classy, dark-colored shades. The walls are soothing in two-tone gray, while vinyl-plank flooring and recessed lighting keep the glare to a minimum.
The buff-colored furniture — including a pair each of loft-ready beds, wardrobes, desks and matching rocker chairs — is sturdy, but airy-looking. Plus, the whole works is moveable, so students are free to switch up the look as often as they’d like. Throw in a plush rug, a pouffe, lamp, and a small couch and accent chair, and you have your own oasis.
The outer vestibule includes a separate shower room, plus a private toilet room with its own vanity and sink. A larger vanity, mirror and sink can be shared in the open area. A handy shelf-and-cubicle unit allows students to grab their keys, phones and mittens before heading out the door to class or the big game.
Noeldner says the suites come with an additional perk: their own thermostats. (Cool! Or warm — it all depends.) The building’s whole HVAC system can be monitored for air quality, too.
Further, administrators say the housing project eliminates more than $200 million in deferred maintenance costs and reduces the University’s overall housing footprint by 1 million square feet, significantly cutting utility expenses and helping to mitigate current inflationary pressures.
Creating density for retention
Noeldner says the new student housing also fits with the University’s long-range plan that focuses on finding new ways to create more “density” on campus. The philosophy follows that the more ways you can encourage students to live and engage in different activities on campus, the more likely they are to stay on campus.
That’s something Ashley Gunderson, marketing manager for UND Housing & Dining Support Services, knows firsthand. As a transfer student who lived off campus with family, she says she had a very different college experience than her twin sister, who lived on campus.
“One of my biggest regrets I have now after graduating is that I’d go to class and then just go home to my mom and my dog,” she said. “I missed out on so much. If you’re on campus, everything is just right there, and you have so many opportunities to connect, hang with friends — meet new friends — and do things together. My sister had so many more experiences and met so many different people. I’m kind of jealous and wish I had done that.”
And while Metropoulos may not have had the option of a daily commute back and forth from Chicago, he says he wouldn’t change a thing about his choice to live in the UND residence halls.
In fact, as soon as McVey Hall opened midsemester in October, 85 percent of his fellow students temporarily living in Walsh Hall were so excited about their new digs that they packed up and moved themselves rather than wait a week for the scheduled help from University staff.
Mellow vibes in McVey
As he and Noeldner recently took a break in their day to give their guest a grand tour, Metropoulos motioned with his arm in the main community room and said: “I mean, look at this space. It’s beautiful.”
And there was no question he was right.
As a rose-colored sunset stretched across the expanse of almost floor-to-ceiling windows, the spacious room felt immediately warm and inviting. With walls painted in a calming deep blue and other neutral hues, oversized, comfy furniture was arranged in front of a big-screen TV. More tables, ottomans and cozy seating arrangements were scattered throughout the supersized room, and elsewhere, bright and playful UND branding made wayfinding easy.
“This space gets used every single day,” Metropoulos added. The furniture is simple and moveable, making the space popular for everything from studying and music to movie nights and endless games of “Magic: The Gathering.” It’s also the perfect go-to meeting spot for countless UND student organizations.
“Granted, some of the older residence halls may have separate community spaces, but they’re not going to be close to this nice,” he said. “They’re going to be much smaller, and it might be a space on just one floor that’s shared by the whole building.
“Here in McVey, we have this huge social space right here on this side, more community space on the other side, in the middle and on every floor.”
In fact, the new residence hall has four large main lounges — one with a Ping-Pong table — and four more roomy lounges off the elevators. Each space has a combination of relaxing furniture, plus either study pods or tables and chairs.
On top of that, McVey has two stylish and modern kitchenette areas with comfortable lounging and eating spaces. Complete with basic cookware, a sink, stovetop, oven and microwave, each kitchenette offers a bright and generous view of the outdoors. They’re a place you’d like to linger rather than just pop your popcorn and jet back to your room.
The design and frequency of the community spaces was all very intentional, Noeldner explained, with the placement of one larger shared space near every wing of 35 students. There also are small and medium-sized, glass-enclosed study rooms. Whiteboards and high-tech cameras make it possible for student groups to Zoom anywhere so they can work together on projects.
Next door, the fully remodeled Brannon Hall has many of the same features, including one large and open kitchen/lounge area as well as a comfortable ground-floor lounge with a pool table and TV seating area. Eight more floor lounges, as well as study nooks, are spread throughout the building.
Brannon also is home to UND’s Living Learning Communities for Aviation, Nursing, Engineering and Atmospheric Science students. The LLC concept allows students in related fields to “live and learn” together as they make stronger connections in both the classroom and in everyday life. An added bonus: The aviation floor soon will get its own flight simulator room, Noeldner says.
The Landing Zone in the works
Perhaps, the biggest crown jewel of the Wilkerson Complex is yet to come. This spring, the finishing touches will be put on a large, grassy courtyard at the center of the complex. Anchored by an indoor/outdoor social hub called The Landing Zone, the five residence halls and the main Wilkerson Commons will come full circle.
The Landing Zone will feature a large patio, outdoor furniture and a 12-foot fire pit, Noeldner said. The 1.7-acre green space at the center of the residence halls also will include walking paths and benches, as well as a possible stage and power access for showing outdoor movies.
Other plans call for sand volleyball pits, a hammock farm and outdoor directional Wi-Fi.
“I love it! Just the existence of a grass field is a blank slate for programming. I can’t wait for our next Welcome Weekend,” Metropoulos said. “All of our freshmen are going to be in one spot, and the residents will be able to look right out their windows and see everything that’s going on.
“Connecting people is such an important part of our job. Really, the biggest benefit of residence hall life is you get to form all these relationships. Those friends you make in your first weeks at UND are probably the same ones who’ll impact your whole college experience and, in some cases, your whole life.”