Home away from home

Whether coming from 10 or 10,000 miles away to live at SVSU, the welcoming campus community quickly makes residential students such as Bijesh Gyawali feel at home. The native of Kathmandu, Nepal, once worried his pursuit of a college degree in America would force him into an uncomfortable and unfamiliar living environment. When he arrived at SVSU, that was not the case.

“When you live here, there’s so much room to move in your apartment and on campus, and that space allows you to flourish academically and with your social life,” the economics major said.

“And with all the amenities in our housing and across campus, I can see why students think this is one of the best colleges to live.”

Gyawali is not alone in his high opinion of SVSU’s housing environment.

For years, SVSU has scaled the rankings of the website Niche’s annual “Best Dorms” list, which calculates the nation’s top on-campus living environments. An online survey accounts for 70 percent of each institution’s final score; the other 30 percent is in part determined using data from the U.S. Department of Education.

This fall, SVSU earned its highest-ever placement on the annual list, ranking No. 4 among all universities in the U.S. No other Michigan college or university cracked the top 60 on the list of 1,384.

And, for the second consecutive year, SVSU ranked No. 1 among public universities in the U.S.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Michele Gunkelman said of the ranking.
SVSU’s director of Residential Life since 2008, Gunkelman is well acquainted with students’ glowing reviews of campus housing as well as the community and culture surrounding it.

“Living on campus is more than a place to hang your hat; it’s a place to connect, be successful, make an impact and develop your passion,” the Cardinal alumna said. “We pride ourselves on creating a safe and secure living and learning environment for our students.”

That environment has existed for a long time at SVSU, even if the size and scope of it was much different, she said.

Gunkelman was a residential student in the early 1990s, about a decade before a construction boom added substantially to the number of housing facilities, amenities and students living at SVSU.

“We didn’t have cable on campus when I lived here,” Gunkelman said, “but it still was an awesome experience. The housing offerings were not as robust as they are now, but even back then you really became close with the people you were living with. It’s always been a very close-knit community.”

More than 2,400 people reside on campus today (compared to 607 in 1990) in townhome-style apartments beloved for their spacious layout. Other options include suites suited for freshmen or students that prefer closer proximity to their classes.

Emily Wahl, a senior accounting major from Bad Axe, lived in both environments. While there was comparatively less room to spread out there, she preferred the facilities known as the “first-year suites” to the larger living centers and village apartments.

“The freshmen housing options are located in the central part of campus, which is why I liked living there,” she said. “With the campus courtyard not too far from any of those freshmen buildings, it seemed like there was always an event going on right outside your window.”

The convenience of living on a campus vibrant with activities and housing options that appeal to all types of interests presents a valuable selling point for prospective residential students, she said. Student-organized activities include group games or movie screenings; free admission to theatrical and concert venues where actors and musicians from across the world perform; state-of-the-art fitness centers and athletic arenas where students can work out and watch their peers play collegiate sports; and name-brand eateries on campus such as Subway, Starbucks and Panda Express.

Renee McKinnie, a rehabilitation medicine major, moved to campus from Detroit three years ago.

Today, she serves as a resident assistant in Living Center Southwest, helping her peers feel comfortable and flourish.

“We’re a small community but there’s so much diversity,” McKinnie said. “When you live here, you get to know people from different backgrounds and cultures. It’s a blessing to be around so many different types of people.”

The idea of connecting with new cultures is appealing to U.S.-born students such as McKinnie as well as to SVSU’s international population. Coming from Nepal to Michigan during his freshman year, Gyawali hoped he was stepping into a friendly environment that would welcome him when he moved to campus.

“I learned it’s a great environment for getting to know people,” he said. “It’s all the space you’re given to live that brings people together. It makes you feel like it’s your home and allows you to be friends with strangers more easily. That kind of friendly environment helped me navigate my first few years on campus more easily.”

Indigo Dudley lived much closer to SVSU when she enrolled five years ago. The Saginaw native was attracted to the idea of moving on campus for the same reasons as her classmate from Nepal. After four years of living on campus, Dudley discovered her initial intuition was correct: Sharing space with peers and benefiting from her proximity to campus life helped the music major thrive.

“If I had lived at home instead of campus, I don’t think I would be as outgoing as I am,” she said. “I don’t think I would have reached out and had as many friends or connections that I have now. I would have gone to class and then went home, just like I did in high school.”

Dudley’s highlights from her SVSU experiences include invitations to sing at Midwest competitions, a spot on the student-elected 2018 SVSU Homecoming Court and leadership positions with campus groups such as The Organization of Black Unity.

“I honestly love the housing at SVSU,” she said. “We definitely deserve the rankings we get nationally.”


Kaitlyn Farley contributed to this story.

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