Montana State University

Spring 2014

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Mountains and Minds

Photo by Kelly Gorham

A room with a view April 29, 2014 by Evelyn Boswell • Published 04/29/14

Remember your noisy college housing? Life in Gallatin Hall, MSU’s newest student residence, is nothing like that.

It’s Wednesday, and students living in the newest residence hall at Montana State University know the rules. They must be quiet between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, according to a sign hanging in Gallatin Hall, a residence hall for mostly sophomores and upperclassmen. If they want to be noisy later, they’ll have to wait until Friday and Saturday nights.

But at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, it’s already quiet in the building that’s one of three in the Headwaters Complex near North Hedges.

No one is watching the 60-inch TV in the fourth-floor lounge with its panoramic view of the sky, Bridger Mountains, the “M” and the MSU campus. Nobody is studying in the second and third floor lounges, which have similar views. No one is enjoying the gas-powered fireplace, washing clothes or recycling. The halls are empty, the elevators still.

“I love the quiet community. I really do,” said Residence Director Blake Stemen.

But where is the community?

Evidently it’s in class until 5 p.m., but it’s about to make itself known. Behold the power of pudding and a common kitchen.

Katie Menig and Samantha Kohl, resident advisers, prepare for an evening program that will bring Madison and Jefferson Hall residents into Gallatin Hall. They enter the building carrying milk, whipped cream, gummy worms and Oreo cookies. As they start making chocolate pudding and crushing cookies, students stop by to say hello.

In walks Brendan O’Meagher, a sophomore business major from Missoula, then Katharine Schmachtenberger, an architecture major from Fort Collins, Colo. Here comes Hazen Alkire from Billings, a business management and honors major. There goes Alkire, and here comes Wesley Turner from Littleton, Colo., a junior in economics and political science.

“I like it here. I like the community we have,” said Turner, who plans to attend law school and then become a corporate lawyer. “It’s very quiet, but we are all willing to talk to each other.”

The conversation bounces from sushi to horses, from how hair looks in Cat Card photos to the surprising discovery that the kitchen’s oven doubles as a microwave. Schmachtenberger compares biking in Colorado to biking around Bozeman. O’Meagher makes a miniature pancake. Kohl looks for an easier way to crush Oreos.

By 6 p.m., the kitchen is empty, and the building is quiet again. Street lights and lights from the Plant Growth Center glow through the winter darkness. A bicyclist rides by in the shadows.

An hour later, a brief flurry of activity occurs when Broc Gates, a resident adviser in Roskie Hall, a residence hall largely for freshmen, brings over three students to tour the building. Roskie is “really nice,” but sophomores and above like to have other living options, he said.

“Do people here communicate or do they hide?” Tristan Bosman asked Menig as she showed them the suite that Schmachtenberger shares with her twin sister, Ellsbeth, and others.

“They do communicate,” Menig said.

Stemen, in the meantime, is attending one of the many meetings that resident directors attend as part of their jobs. Tonight’s gathering is with the Judicial Board (J-Board), a group that deals with problematic students. Tonight’s students are there because they have disrupted their communities and neighbors.

None of them are students from his building, Stemen said. In fact, he has never had that problem in Gallatin Hall, which opened this fall and held its grand opening Jan. 28. Students who live in Gallatin Hall must have a clean record for behavior. They can’t have caused disciplinary problems in residence halls where they lived in the past. They must also have a GPA of at least 2.0 and be active in the MSU and residence hall communities.

A bigger challenge for him and the people he supervises is creating a sense of community in a building where students live in suites that have their own common areas and rooms that are separated from the hallways by two doors, Stemen said. Gallatin Hall is a co-ed building, with each suite shared by four students of the same gender. Some of the suites have two double rooms, and others have three rooms—two single rooms and a double. The students in each suite share sinks, a shower, toilet and small lounge.

And not every student wants—or has time for—close relationships within the building, Stemen said. Most of the 70 students who live in Gallatin Hall have lived in more traditional housing and are wise to resident advisers trying to get them involved with each other.

“Sometimes they are just not looking for a community,” Stemen said. “They are looking for a safe place to sleep and study. Some of them are working two and three jobs and taking 21 credits. They don’t have time for programs, but they enjoy living on campus. They enjoy living within seven minutes of their classrooms.”

But never underestimate the attraction of food for college students.

“Food is the pinnacle of bribery,” Stemen said.

Free pizza was a huge draw when the resident advisers held a previous program for the Headwaters Complex, Kohl said. The November program offered practical advice about living off campus and brought in students who shared the lessons they had learned. The event was so successful that it won two awards, one from the MSU chapter of the National Residence Hall Honorary and the other a “Bobcatamy Award Winner “for MSU’s best department-themed team program of the month.

Tonight’s program, called “Dirt Cups and Travel Tips,” will offer food, too, but this time it’s chocolate pudding, crushed Oreo cookies, whipped cream and gummy worms in plastic cups. Students who want to eat will have to take a plastic cup from Stemen and visit four stations manned by resident advisers. At each station, they’ll hear one travel tip and receive a layer of food. Before getting the next layer, they’ll have to repeat the tip they picked up at the previous station.

“If you ever take the bus, get there early because seats are not assigned,” Kohl, a resident adviser in Madison Hall, will tell them.

Sydney Jaramillo, a resident adviser in Jefferson Hall, will say, “When you are going on a long road trip, plan gas stops, so you don’t run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.”

Shortly before the program begins, nine students gather in the combination living room/kitchen on the first floor of Gallatin Hall. Before long, the room has 25 students, then 30. Students keep coming. Kohl makes more pudding.

“I love living here. The environment is so nice,” says Kahlee Dalton from Helena, a sophomore majoring in health enhancement education. “It’s cool because you can socialize when you want to. You are not forced into doing things.”

One resident, in fact, chooses running over dessert. Another—Bobby Lee, a sophomore from Billings—bypasses the opportunity after eating pineapple chicken, green beans and cheesecake at a Phi Kappa Phi dinner, where he was just initiated into the honor society.

Extensive input from students, staff

Gallatin Hall was designed with extensive student input, and it shows, according to the planners.

A residence life advisory committee made up of students and staff helped select the furniture, colors and other features in the building that targets sophomores and above, emphasizes sustainable living and frees up more traditional housing for freshmen, said Chief Housing Officer Tammie Brown. Members who served in 2011–12 focused on the structure. The 2012–13 members concentrated on the inside, giving their input on things like furniture, color schemes and the arrangement of lobbies and lounges. Even the name came from students.

Gallatin Hall completes a circle that includes the North Hedges residence hall and two residence halls previously known as Suite 1 and Suite 2. The latter two buildings are now called Madison Hall and Jefferson Hall respectively. Together the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin halls make up the Headwaters Complex, a name the students chose to reflect the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers coming together to form the headwaters of the Missouri River near Three Forks. MSU recently received permission to build a new $35 million, 400-bed residence hall for first-year students in the same general area as Gallatin Hall, but it will not be part of the Headwaters Complex.

“Everything we could have a say in, our say was taken (for) what was going to happen,” said David Aderholdt, a 2013 graduate in cell biology and neuroscience who served on the second Gallatin Hall advisory committee. “If the architects wanted to make changes, they ran it by the committee.”

All four floors have common areas and study lounges. The entire building shares a laundry room and offers Wi-Fi. Wall-sized topographic maps hang near the elevator doors with QR codes that can be scanned by smartphones and provide information on favorite hikes in the Sacajawea, Hyalite and Spanish Creek areas of Gallatin County.

“All of these amenities and the design aim to get students to interact with each other,” Brown said. “We know that students who form strong friendships and communities on campus are much more likely to succeed in school. This building was purposefully designed to help foster those communities.”

Gallatin Hall was built by Jackson Contractor Group and designed by Schlenker McKittrick Architects of Helena. Two of the firm’s partners, Jason Davis and Tim Meldrum, are both graduates of the MSU School of Architecture. Director of Auxiliary Services Tom Stump said Gallatin Hall was built with “green” practices and materials that should qualify it to be certified as a LEED Gold building. It contains solar panels that preheat the building’s water, energy-efficient windows and water-conserving toilets. Vending machines and refrigerators go into sleep mode at night, reducing the amount of energy they use. A community restroom allows users to decide if they want the lights on for two minutes, five minutes or as long as 60.

LEED refers to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The U.S. Green Building Council gives the certification for points earned in five categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. If Gallatin Hall is LEED Gold certified, it will be the third LEED certification for an MSU building and the first for a residence hall. Cooley Laboratory earned a LEED Gold certification in 2013. Gaines Hall was certified LEED Silver in 2011.

Winding down

As another program winds down for the Headwaters Complex, Kameron Kranse intentionally mangles the travel tips he gives to his fellow RAs. Two young women braid hair. Stemen leaves his station and joins the lounging students.

If it’s a night like others, the Gallatin Hall students may run into each other again in the study lounges. They may see Katharine Schmachtenberger back in the kitchen, this time working on one of her design projects spread across the counter.

Whatever happens, the encounters will be especially quiet after 10 p.m.

And tomorrow morning, Assistant Resident Director Jake MacKenzie, a junior majoring in business, will once again be able to look out his fourth-floor bedroom window and see the Bridgers. He’ll head next door into the Sky Lounge, read the newspaper and drink a cup of coffee.

“I love it,” he said.

“I really like what I’m doing as an RA, helping students and helping them find their path,” he added. “It’s really been pretty awesome.” â–