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revamp bookstores


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

SEP 4, 2023

During the first year of her presidency at Robert Morris University, Michelle Patrick heard a repeated request from students: They wanted a central location on campus to hang out.

Now, they have one. The Moon Township school has transformed a former bookstore into a multi-room social retreat, dubbed “The Basement.”

Located on the bottom floor of the Edward A. Nicholson Student Center, The Basement features comfy furniture, flat screen TVs, a bar-style seating area, a mini stage and ping pong tables. Relics of RMU’s history, such as old freshman orientation t-shirts and retro Robert Morris signage, decorate the space’s walls.

The Basement is a major improvement for students on campus at Robert Morris University in Moon on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. The former bookstore now has a stage for performances and gatherings.

(Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)

The Basement’s introduction comes after school leaders decided to overhaul the concept of a campus bookstore. RMU’s bookstore once sold spirit wear and books in The Basement’s current space. Now, RMU gear can be purchased in three different locations on campus, while school books can be shipped directly to students’ homes or picked up at a temporary location on campus at the beginning of each semester.

Universities across the country are questioning the presence of a brick-and-mortar bookstore on their campuses as digital books become more common. Virginia Wesleyan University’s bookstore is now a merchandise shop that also includes printing services and a post office. The University of California, Santa Cruz, turned its bookstore into a resource center for students with disabilities, while a community college in Michigan transformed its bookstore into a convenience store.

At RMU, groups of students trickled into the space on Monday, the first day of classes at the private university. Some played ping pong while others relaxed on couches and a bean bag chair.

“It’s a place where we’re going to share our memories of RMU, but we hope that students make their own memories as they come here,” Ms. Patrick said. “So far they’ve all loved it.”

Robert Morris University seniors, from left, Devonte Kelly, 21, from Penn Hills, and Clarence Fields, also 21, from Landover, Maryland, said they were happily surprised to find The Basement in place of the bookstore in the Edward M. Nicholson Building.(Lucy Schaly/Post-Gazette)

Seeing The Basement was “insane” to Addy Hildebrand, a senior studying public relations and advertising. “I knew this was happening, but I didn’t see any of the changes until I walked in today,” Ms. Hildebrand said. “I think it’s a great little addition to our campus.”

Freshmen have already begun enjoying the new space. RMU held some new student orientation activities in the space.

“This is where I met all my friends,” said Darwin Miles-Flurry, a freshman studying biomedical engineering.

The creation of The Basement is just one of the ways that RMU officials say they’ve transformed the Nicholson Student Center over the summer.

RMU leaders have also moved the university’s financial aid, financial services, registrar and student success offices into a single, central location in the student center, called “Solution Central.” School leaders say the goal of the Solution Center is to boost collaboration and accessibility of these services on campus.

And the university has implemented a “concierge desk,” where students can ask their peers for help and advice as they navigate their college experience. Student leaders at the concierge desk will also be tasked with recruiting high school students to RMU.

“The whole idea was to transform this building so that every service a student would need, as much as possible, could be in this building,” Ms. Patrick said. “When you walk in, whatever you need is somewhere here. You’re not being bounced around from place to place.”

The changes come as university officials boast the largest freshman class in recent history. Freshman enrollment increased by over 25% between fall 2022 and fall 2023. About 3,700 undergraduate and graduate students attend the school.

First Published September 1, 2023, 5:30am


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