Last month, California State University, Northridge opened three new residence halls and a new outpost of the Freudian Sip coffeehouse at University Park on the north end of campus — now home to 800 freshmen.
At the brand-new residence halls, CSUN students stroll all over the plaza, chat with friends and bury their heads in laptops and books. Many grab hot and cold drinks from the Freudian Sip. Most students hanging out at the University Park live on campus.
“It’s convenient,” said 25-year-old student Abhimanyu Lalchandani. “The classes are close, and all my friends live close by. I don’t need a car at all.”
Aside from convenience, CSUN student housing also offers numerous programs and resources to provide the best possible experiences for residents.
Building new residence halls and expanding programming is not only about accommodating housing needs, said Colin Donahue, vice president of administration and finance. Faculty and staff want to provide value for students by combining the social and academic advantages of campus housing at affordable rates, he said.
“We provide a number of projects to create a 24/7 student life,” Donahue said.
“We’ve got quite a vibrant campus,” said Shelley Ruelas-Bischoff, associate vice president for student life. “A lot of students take advantage of the activities, events and opportunities that we have happening all day long and on the weekends as well.”
Even when students do commute, many of them find themselves studying in the Oviatt Library or spending time with friends on campus outside of class. Others have part-time jobs on campus, attend CSUN events or join clubs to meet like-minded people.
“There are many great reasons that keep students on campus,” Ruelas-Bischoff said. “We definitely want students to take advantage of these opportunities, access the many resources here at the university and to get involved.”
Students who live on campus have unique opportunities to choose “living and learning communities,” which enable them to live with people with similar interests or majors, in order to build connections. Resident assistants support these communities by organizing programs specifically targeted to the areas of interest.
For example, one living and learning community focuses on living sustainably. Students interested in sustainability and an environment-friendly lifestyle can share their passion with fellow students and discover new ways of energy and water efficiency.
“You’re going to meet people who are drawn to learning about the same things you are, who want to make an impact in the same way that you might,” Ruelas-Bischoff said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to get connected in ways that really do help students ultimately get a great education, both inside and outside of the classroom.”
Danitza Medina, now a second-year graduate student in general experimental psychology, lived on campus for three years as an undergraduate at CSUN. She grew up in Imperial County, and when she moved to Northridge, the housing community helped her find friends and get involved in campus life, she said.
“Living on campus really helped me feel at home, and made me feel like I always had someone who had my back — with the hurdles that I had to overcome as an undergraduate,” said Medina, 23.
Medina was involved in the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and worked as a resident advisor. She also has joined the staff of CSUN’s Sport Psychology Research Lab. Aside from staying active on campus, Medina said, living at CSUN enabled her to stay more focused academically.
“[Living on campus] helped me stay on campus the majority of my undergraduate years, which then helped me study more often,” she said.
CSUN offers two types of on-campus housing: Family housing, located in the University Village, is designed for students with partners or children. The apartments and suites at University Park are targeted at single students.
The freshman unit, within the University Park complex, is designed for first-time freshmen.
“This configuration is oriented toward helping [first-time freshmen] get out of their rooms and interact with others,” Ruelas-Bischoff said.
Resident assistants encourage students to meet other people on their floor, visit one of the common areas, use the community or learning resource center and learn more about the campus resources.
Programs such as “Mata-Math” provide students with tutors, who visit the residence halls four days a week offering math tutoring services. The Academic Mentor Program provides first-time freshmen with a peer mentor who offers personal and academic assistance.
“The learning support programs in the residence halls, such as academic mentoring and tutoring, help students delve into and be successful with their academics,” said Timothy Trevan, director of residential life and conferences. “Our tag line for student housing is ‘Success Lives Here.’ [CSUN] is a great place to be engaged, and there’s no better way than to live right here.”
Abigail Escatel is in her last year as graduate student, pursuing a Master of Science in Counseling — focused on school counseling — and she has lived has lived on campus for seven years. She never wanted to leave the community and the resources on campus, Escatel said.
“I told myself, I’ll move away once I’m done with school,” said Escatel, 23. “[On campus], I can stay focused, without excuses.”
In 2009, she joined the women’s group Sista 2, which was created and strongly supported by the CSUN housing staff. The staff provided the group with meeting spaces and assistants to facilitate meetings. Later, Sista 2 was able to establish itself into a sorority.
“If you ever need some type of support, housing definitely hears you out and provides support,” Escatel said.
She also participated in the university’s G.R.E.A.T Escape program, which encourages first-time freshmen to move into residence halls a week before returning students. During that first week, the housing staff provides workshops and programs to help students get settled and learn about campus resources.
Students who participate in the G.R.E.A.T Escape week tend to be more successful later on, because they learn where resources are located and how to use them, Escatel said.
“Once you have resources, your life becomes a lot easier — as opposed to stressing out,” she said.
In certain units of the residence halls, the campus residents also have access to a games room, meeting and conference rooms, and a kitchen area.
CSUN freshman Noemi Castillo, 18, said she appreciates everything CSUN offers on-campus residents.
“I like living on campus because I can walk to my classes and be on campus whenever I want,” she said. “They also allow [us] to choose roommates, so I could live with my best friend from high school.”
Victor Valenzuela, also a CSUN freshman, said he wants to get involved with clubs because he lives close to campus and wants to become more engaged. He said he also likes the new freshmen complex, in which he resides.
“I got a new building,” said the 17-year-old. “Everything is new, which is cool. And my roommate is a close friend now.”