by BLAKE PIESCHKE, CSU Public Relations Intern
Every two years, a random list of 3500 Minnesota State Mankato students are invited to to share their thoughts about the Centennial Student Union as part of an Educational Benchmarking Inc. (EBI) survey designed to assess student unions, their services and their programs.
The most recent survey completed in 2020 had a 32 percent response rate – the highest response since the CSU initiated the survey in 2006.
The survey includes a standardized EBI survey with 20 additional institutional specific questions created by the CSU. After analyzing two open-ended questions of “How can the CSU be improved?” and “What questions do you have for the CSU?”, Mark Constantine, director of Centennial Student Union and Student Activities, Mark Constantine, and Lenny Koupal, CSU Communications Coordinator who oversees the survey, were able to address the most frequent questions and comments.
During the analysis of “How can the CSU be improved?”, the most frequent answers consisted of more seating and a quiet place to study, longer food court hours, more variety of dining options, price and quality of food, more activities and event promotion. Koupal was able to give some insight and answers on these more frequent responses.
More seating and a quiet place to study:
“So much of this is dependent on return from covid. On an average (non-covid) day, the CSU has a daily foot traffic of about 10,000. Still, seating throughout the CSU is generally suitable and comfortable to accommodate most normal use situations. Most of the concern is expressed during lunch times when the CSU is exceptionally busy between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Associated with the lack of seating is the fact that often one person occupies a table during the lunch break hours. That limits the overall space available for the larger crowds. As for quiet space, the CSU has several areas throughout the building that offer relatively quiet studying space. Some of those include the computer lab in the lower level, the Hearth Lounge, the area outside student activities, the CSU Ballroom lobby, areas outside of the International Center and corridor seating spaces on the upper level. I say relatively because the CSU, is first and foremost a social gathering space. In 2014, the CSU and the Library joined forces to seek a pedestrian walkway that connects the two buildings during normal operating hours. That walkway provides a convenient means for students wanting quiet library studying space to easily access the CSU whenever they needed a study break.”
Longer food court hours:
“Jazzman’s remains open with beverages and food into the evening hours to accommodate persons in the building after 7 p.m. Under normal operating conditions, the Bullpen snack bar is also open later in the evening. At this time, the volume of dining traffic after 7 p.m. does not warrant Dining Services costs for operating other MavAve food court venues.”
More variety of dining options:
“The CSU and University Dining Services continually monitor the types of food and popularity of food venues offered within the CSU. This conscious effort seeks to provide a range of food offerings to meet most appetites. Not all can be met, so the popularity of a venue often establishes its presence in the MavAve.”
Price and quality of food:
“The renovation of the MavAve Food Court in 2017 was in direct response to providing quality food offerings in a convenient service area. Some of those responses came from student survey comments. Pricing takes into account competitive venues in Mankato. The MavAve seeks to remain and often succeeds in being competitive with other similar venues in the region.”
“This is a relative observation based upon a person’s interests and, in some cases, their efforts to learn more about offered activities. The Student Events Team each year hosts over 80 activities ranging from movies to concerts, bingo and game shows to speakers/lectures. The intent of the Student Events Team is to offer a wide range of activities that reach a wide range of student interests. Other student organizations and department activities are ongoing throughout the year.”
“This continues to be a “moving target” as students follow their preferred means of learning about activities. The CSU does extensive promotion of events with posters remaining the most often used means for learning about events – again, based on student survey results. The CSU makes a special daily effort to maintain its seven bulletin boards in order to promote timely events in the CSU and across campus. Seldom will one find an outdated poster on these bulletin boards. RSOs and Departments also place posters on general bulletin boards throughout campus. The CSU Communications maintains a staff of two graphic designers that assist the CSU and Student Activities in poster creation. The CSU also offers the weekly CAN which is posted in the CSU restrooms as well as the CSU website and social media. Another means of communication within the CSU and Myers Field House is the CSU digital monitors. Currently, the CSU is seeking to improve and advance its digital signage with a highly visible display within the CSU. Another aspect for better event promotion requires some student initiative. For some students, the CSU is not in their daily campus routes. Other students don’t come into the CSU unless it is for a particular, sometimes limited, purpose. The CSU is currently seeking a means of ‘taking the message to the masses’ who don’t come into the student union.”
During the analysis of “What questions do you have for us?”, questions about upgrades to the building, changes to the environment and what banking option would be provided because of the departure of the Wells Fargo were the most frequent. Constantine was able to provide answers to their plans for the future and address student’s concern about banking options.
Future upgrades and changes of the environment of the CSU:
“The CSU is ever evolving. As a staff, along with the Student Union Board, we are constantly updating the building. Some things may be visible to the general public, while others you’ll never see. An example of this has been an on-going upgrade of our HVAC systems. Many of these were original to the building (1967), so gradual replacement is needed. We’ve spent approximately $4 million dollars over the past six years on these improvements.”
“Some of our meeting rooms have been totally refurbished, while others are on the docket. Over the next few summers, rooms 201-204 will have a totally new look. Wall coverings and carpets are beginning to show some age, so we’ll hire an interior decorator for some ideas. Our Ballroom chairs will need to be replaced soon, so this will also be an expensive project. We own about 1000 chairs, so you can do the math!”
“Retail dining within the CSU is a joint project between Dining Services and us. We are always evaluating food concepts for productivity, variety, and an ever changing palate. Over the next year we’ll be looking to make some changes in our current portfolio of food options.”
Wells Fargo departure:
“Although Wells Fargo is no longer a retail branch on the first floor, they do intent to place an ATM down by the Bookstore. Wells Fargo made a business decision not to pursue a new lease with the University after a ten-year lease expired. Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union moved from the lower level and now occupies the first floor space which Wells Faro vacated.”
The Centennial Student Union thanks everyone who participated and their feedback in helping them with their goal to provide a better college experience.