University of Tennessee at Chattanooga South Campus students now have student-centric space within easy walking distance of their residence halls.
On Monday, Jan. 9, a grand opening ceremony was held to introduce The Aviary at Stacy Town Center—a community space designed to serve the social and academic needs of students residing in Decosimo, Guerry, Stophel, Walker and UC Foundation Apartments.
Located at the corner of East Eighth and University streets in front of the Decosimo Apartments, The Aviary was conceptualized and designed by students in the UTC Interior Architecture and Design program.
More than 100 people attended the grand opening event, which featured remarks from UTC Chancellor Steven R. Angle; University of Chattanooga Foundation board member and real estate chair Roger Smith; Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Abeer Mustafa; Associate Professor Jessica Etheredge, the Interior Architecture and Design program director; and students J.T. Taylor and Jacob Ridenour, whose design concept was selected for The Aviary.
In the summer of 2021, Mustafa asked Etheredge to have her students propose ideas for turning what was formerly offices into a student lounge area to improve South Campus student life.
During the fall 2021 semester, third-year students enrolled in Etheredge’s Commercial Interiors I course were divided into groups of two for a four-week project. They gathered information through research, brainstorming, site visits, field measurements of the space, interviewing Housing and Residence Life staff and surveying students living in the apartments.
Using the information and feedback, the student tandems developed design concepts and proposals for the approximate 3,300-square-foot Stacy Town Center. Presentations were then made to a group that included Mustafa, Angle and members of the UC Foundation.
“What an opportunity for students in our interior architecture program to come up with a design and then see it work,” Angle said. “This was designed by students for students and I hope they’re excited to see how it actually played out.”
Angle thanked the UC Foundation, which owns the five South Campus properties and funded the $500,000 renovation.
“A number of the Foundation board members are here,” he said. “Thank you for your support and what you do.”
Smith, a 1973 UTC graduate, spoke on behalf of the Foundation. He praised the students in the interior architecture program for the ideas they brought to the project.
“I’m truly amazed at the work and the talent that they have,” Smith said. “For them to have some ownership in this is amazing.”
Mustafa called the project experiential learning at its finest, saying the space was given to the students with no blinders.
“Let’s see what you have,” she recalled the initial concepts the interior architecture and design students put together. “I’m telling you right now, and I’ve been in construction for a very long time, but Dr. Etheredge brought her students here in August (2021)—and by the fourth week they had a project hand-delivered. That is unheard-of.”
Etheredge drew laughs when she said her students were thinking, “I was a little bit crazy,” when she recalled the four-week timeline she gave her class.
“That was the great thing about this project: the students were given vague information. They had to do the digging. They had to do the research. They had to survey the staff, survey students and do interviews to figure out what should this space be and what is the design solution going to be that’s going to capture the spirit of what the students want and what this space needs to be,” she said.
“(The students) learned a lot throughout the process. I learned a lot. I think we all learned a lot. That’s all we could ask for with an experience like this.”
The student duo of Ridenour and Taylor spoke briefly.
“Wow, what an experience to be part of,” Ridenour said. “This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of, and to have made a mark quite literally at UTC is just a real humbling experience.”
“All we wanted to do was create a landing spot for students once they relaunched from home,” Taylor said. “Everyone here helped us do that.”
Following the event and a few moments to soak it all in, the two were asked what it was like to see a concept they had started brought to life.
“It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Ridenhour said, “and it’s all kinds of emotions and gratitude.”
“And if I may,” Taylor added, “this is something that we have that our fellow students don’t have. We can put a completed project in our portfolio. So not only is it humbling, but it also is elevating.
“It’s definitely something that’s going to stand out in a portfolio. It’s very exciting.”
Ridenour admitted his uneasiness in addressing the assembled crowd, getting a laugh and a “poor Jacob” out of Taylor.
“The first thing I felt was, ‘Man, this is nerve-wracking,’” he said, “but I’m genuinely just proud of both of us. Looking back to where we started freshman year, it’s just what I hoped and dreamed to do when I started to come to school here.”