Bill Lucksted is facilities services supervisor at Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Donna Markus is GVSU's manager of special projects and can be reached at email@example.com. Janet Walls is the associate director of housing at GVSU and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Facilities professionals take pride in development and stewardship of buildings, landscapes, and infrastructures. After all, these operations provide tangible evidence of our endeavors. However, one of the most important things we build is not structural at all-it is the community we create for undergraduate, resident students. And one of the most important things to remember is that we can't do it alone. It takes a truly collaborative effort to establish a relationship with our students that we hope will last a lifetime.
From August 22-26, 2001, we moved more than 4,400 students into Grand Valley State University housing facilities. More than 400 executive officers, administrators, faculty, staff, and volunteers from across the institution joined together as a successful move-in team.
Our goal? For the GVSU "family" to sincerely and warmly welcome students back to the campus. Our approach? To work as a team to plan and then manage a process that would create a unique, fun-filled, and memorable four-day event for all. This is the GVSU move-in story.
First the Facts
GVSU is a comprehensive, multi-campus, Michigan public university with 75 undergraduate and 15 graduate degree programs. The scenic 897-acre Allendale campus is located 12 miles west of downtown Grand Rapids and ten minutes from Lake Michigan. GVSU remains the fastest growing institution in Michigan, with a fall 2001 enrollment nearing 20,000.
The Facilities Services & Planning unit is made up of 171 staff members in five departments:
With 128 employees, Facilities Services is the largest department. The 128-member workforce includes 112 custodial, grounds, maintenance, and service staff.
Since fiscal year 1997, we have added over 2,700 beds to the Allendale housing system at a rate of about 500 beds per year. This represents a 164 percent increase over the past six years. The system currently contains 4,410 beds in 60 buildings totaling 944,000 gross square feet. Facilities range from traditional-style freshmen living centers to apartments and theme housing.
An Unusual Summer
Summer 2001 was filled with challenges that would affect our move-in preparations. The Michigan Department of Transportation had a $50 million road reconstruction project in progress that centered on the main artery to the Allendale campus. GVSU Facilities Planning had $106 million worth of construction projects underway, including the completion of new housing facilities scheduled for August 2001 occupancy, creation of new housing for August 2002 occupancy, interior renovation of two existing living centers, widening of Campus Drive, and construction of a 100-foot archway over the main entrance. For much of the summer, campus was affectionately referred to as a "destruction zone."
In the midst of construction, we managed summer camp season as groups moved in and out of housing facilities. The talents of custodial, grounds, and maintenance staff shone as they worked feverishly around contractors and campers to get buildings ready for the students to return.
Also with 2001 came the retirement of our top three executive officers-the President, Vice President for Finance & Administration, and Provost. President Mark Murray and Vice President for Finance & Administration Tim Schad joined us in April and July, respectively, and were therefore new to the GVSU community and the annual move-in "madness."
It's the Process
Tim Thimmesch, director of facilities services, explains, "Move-in was something that several of our departments-Housing, Facilities, and Public Safety-noted as a process problem four years ago. We decided to work together to improve move-in at GVSU." This decision resulted in development of a planning initiative that has evolved to incorporate staff from all departments participating in the event.
Each spring, representatives from Housing, Facilities Services, Facilities Planning, Public Safety, Student Life, Registrar's Office, Food Services, and others begin to meet on a regular basis in anticipation of move-in. Discussion topics include traffic control, parking, signage, food service arrangements, vehicle loading/unloading, volunteers, campus amenities, buying books, shuttle service, and development of the Welcome Center.
Planning Committee members return to their departments to share information and seek feedback for the committee, so that ultimately the planning effort extends across the campus community. After move-in, the committee reconvenes to talk about what went well, what didn't, and how to improve it for next year.
Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
It would be extremely difficult for us to manage the chaos that would result if 4,400 students, their families, and vehicles arrived on the same day. One of the first decisions made by the Planning Committee was to spread the move over several days, with the schedule based on facility occupancy, traffic flow patterns, and our ability to load/unload vehicles while preventing gridlock at building entrances and parking lots. In a group of three living centers, for example, we may choose to schedule two for the first day and the third for another day. Housing advises residents in advance which day they are scheduled for move-in.
Keep 'Em Moving
One of the keys to success is having a well-organized system of movement. "From the time people enter campus to the time they're moved in," says Allen Wygant, director of public safety services, "they should be in motion. We should develop a route, identify the points along the route where there may be hesitation or confusion, and provide direction with staff or signs to keep up the momentum."
Public Safety staff greet vehicles entering campus and direct those headed for housing facilities to a white tent in a parking lot across from the housing area. Once there, another officer issues each driver a color-coded dashboard card according to the student's residence. (These cards make it easy to tell at a glance where each vehicle belongs as it moves through the process.) Cars are then funneled through appropriate lanes to an intersection where an officer directs drivers to the correct buildings.
Housing, Facilities Services, and Public Safety work together to direct traffic on the campus interior in order to guide vehicles close to buildings for unloading. After a vehicle is unloaded, the driver is asked to move the car into one of the resident parking lots. We ask that no vehicle be left unattended in front of a building.
May the Staff Be With You
This is the most labor-intensive special event of the year for Facilities Services and Planning. The director of public safety along with 25 officers and student security personnel direct traffic and manage parking. The facilities services director and his supervisory staff are spread out at key locations to guide vehicles and manage the loading/unloading process.
Custodial and maintenance employees are stationed throughout the site. We make continual runs to remove trash and recyclables from 20 dumpsters placed strategically near facilities. The Customer Service Center is staffed each day to process work requests. All are clearly visible, wearing either uniforms or special shirts identifying them as Facilities Service & Planning employees. Once inside their rooms, students find a tabletop card with the phone number and website address of Facilities Services should they need further assistance.
The director of housing, assistant director, and associate director take turns in the Welcome Center and circulate through housing to answer questions and help families. Other Housing staff members are present at check-in tables at each building entrance. Resident Assistants and Multicultural Assistants mingle with residents and talk with family members to start the connection to GVSU on the first day.
A special feature of GVSU move-in is the "Helping Hands" program managed by Housing. Almost 50 faculty and staff volunteered to help meet and greet families. It was not unusual to see President Murray or Vice President Tim Schad go by with an armload of boxes as they helped students unload. Twenty-four registered student organizations with approximately 275 students also volunteered to participate. What a pleasant surprise for a family to find five students waiting at their car to help unload and watch over belongings! "Helping Hands" volunteers and Housing staff wear "Ask Me" badges so they may be easily recognized.
Understanding that families are excited but also weary, we have implemented two services designed for customer convenience-a Welcome Center and shuttle service. Parents, especially, are appreciative of these options.
The Welcome Center is located in close proximity to housing in an upscale food service building. Representatives are stationed inside from Housing, Food Service, Financial Aid, Student Life, Campus Ministries, Public Safety, University Bookstore, Campus Wellness, and the Registrar's Office. This "one stop shopping" approach enables students to buy parking permits, get student IDs, check schedules, ask about upcoming events and have questions answered.
Two shuttle buses make continuous runs throughout move-in. A parking lot shuttle transports people (and empty boxes) to their vehicles or back to the Welcome Center. The University Bookstore shuttle drives back and forth from the Welcome Center to the University Bookstore. This service makes it possible for a family to leave their vehicle in a parking lot after unloading, and not have to move it again until they are ready to leave campus.
Make It Fun
The return of students to campus is a cause for celebration! We work very hard to create an atmosphere of joy throughout the event. All staff travel in golf carts. Student DJs play music outside of the Welcome Center. We use big Styrofoam hands to direct traffic. The director of housing pushes a Ben and Jerry's cart through the crowds as he hands out free ice cream. Facilities Services employees issue "litter bucks" (an idea borrowed from a fellow institution) to students who use ash urns or pick up litter-good for $1 off beverages or food purchases on campus. Move-in is the highlight of the year for us, and we use the opportunity to share our enthusiasm with students and their families.
Customer Feedback So, how do students and parents feel about move-in at GVSU?
Compliments like these tell us we're headed in the right direction, and they make all of the hard work worth it.
What do we think makes the GVSU approach unique and successful?
Andy Beachnau, Director of Housing: "I believe staff at GVSU have a lot of pride in ownership in the campus. Staff have a clear sense of purpose and teamwork that creates an atmosphere that is professional and fun for resident students."
As the Facilities Services Supervisor, responsible for custodial service in housing facilities, Bill Lucksted attributes the success to his staff's flexibility and willingness to "go with the flow" and work together to prepare buildings for occupancy. Lucksted feels that another important factor is the synergy between all departments. "We start meeting together early to discuss the upcoming year's challenges, so that by August everything is starting to fall into place."
For Tim Thimmesch in Facilities Services, setting priorities is key. "Our students and their parents come first this time of year, and we want them to feel that way. We have made move-in a positive, organized, and smooth transition that helps to get our academic year started on a high note."
It is truly an extended family of administrators, faculty, staff, and students that connects to build a relationship with resident students. We hope to teach the meaning of community by example, not only through working well together but also by enjoying the process and approaching it as a gift we offer to the newest members of the GVSU family. How we choose to handle move-in determines whether students begin campus life feeling isolated or as members of a supportive community. "We tell people at Orientation how wonderful GVSU is," says Allen Wygant. "Move-in is our chance to prove it."