New Welcome Center To Open Fall 2017

By Samantha Jones Toal

Disguised as a warm seating area for guests, the Hindsley Great Room of the Alice Campbell Alumni Center essentially houses overstuffed furniture.

However, come fall 2017, the velvety-blue sofas will find work somewhere else as the room transforms into a museum-like space to depict the experience of attending the University.

The University of Illinois Alumni Association recently confirmed that the first floor of the building will be repurposed into a Welcome Center.

“If someone were to ask you where they should go to learn about the University or just to spend time when they go on campus, what would you tell them?” said Ryan Ross, coordinator of history and traditions programs.

RhodesWorks, a local exhibit design firm working on the project, found that there was no consistent answer to that question.

“The idea behind this, is that it can serve as a destination people can go to learn about the University and to learn what’s going on at the University today,” Ross said. “It can also serve as a gateway for people to come when they’re visiting campus.”

The Alice Campbell Alumni Center was built in 2006; Joseph Rank, history and traditions project support, was struck by the idea to turn it into something more seven years after its construction.

“The idea is to have one convenient place where visitors of all kinds can get a feeling of what makes the University special,” Rank said.

After the Board of Directors approved the idea, the association hired RhodesWorks to conduct research and plan the displays.

The Welcome Center is a $4 million project and is funded primarily through the Illinois Alumni Association but is currently accepting donations as well.

“I think we have a pretty good plan, and we have a year and a half to put it together,” Rank said.

The Welcome Center will consist of many traditional and interactive exhibits, called discovery boxes. These will highlight student experiences from the past and present through the collection of artifacts.

The Illinois Alumni Association is currently collecting artifacts, photographs and story donations to eventually display.

Ross said the University lacks artifacts from the past 100 years because many people in possession of Illinois memorabilia from the 20th century are still alive and hoarding things in their attic.

Ross said there haven’t been too many artifact donations so far, but plenty of people have donated their diplomas which will be used to make a diploma mobile, a large, flowing sculpture that will hang from the second floor to the first floor.

A new cafe will also replace the bar that is currently in the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, while the ballroom on the first floor will stay the same for events.

There will also be a “memory space,” that collects oral history. Ross said the space will have oral stories based on different themes, such as how someone met their spouse at the University.

He said there will also be an option for visitors to record their own stories that will be reviewed and then possibly added to the display.

The exhibits will be refreshed a few times a year.

“Most of these discovery boxes in the main welcome gallery will be focused on the student experience,” Ross said. “Through the stories that we tell, we’re telling the story of the University.”

Ross said the first students of the University debated about who was going to bring the coal stove to heat their room; now, roommates decide who’s bringing the Xbox.

“The University is largely underappreciated,” Rank said. “So many great things have happened at the University of Illinois; so many important discoveries, so many influential graduates, so many influential faculty members.”

Rank said the University has a better reputation in China than it does in the East Coast and the West Coast.

“We haven’t done a very good job over time of tooting our own horn, to our detriment,” Rank said. “If more people were aware of our history, our traditions and our culture, then our reputation in things like U.S. News and World Report and other rankings, would be a lot higher if people knew what we contributed to the world.”

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