Inside Look: Alumni Houses

Multifunction spaces cater to and celebrate an institution’s graduates
By: | Issue: March, 2016
February 29, 2016

With the need to host both one-on-one donor chats plus receptions for a hundred or more alumni and friends, campus alumni houses tend to be versatile venues. While great rooms in these buildings must have space for that next big event, the aim is for an intimate group not to feel swallowed up by the space.

Furniture choice and placement becomes very important, says Jeff Schanz, presiding officer of the Association of Private College and University Alumni Directors. “A lot of schools are purchasing some rugs and furniture to ‘small’ the place down a bit for when there’s not a big function—to give people a place to sit and read.”

These cozy nooks encourage students to visit the alumni house, too. “Ours is open to the entire campus,” says Schanz, who’s also assistant vice president for alumni relations at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

In fact, RPI’s Heffner Alumni House hosts study days ahead of midterms and finals. Students can fuel up on complimentary snacks as they hit the books or practice group presentations into the wee hours of the night. Of RPI’s approximately 5,000 undergrads, about 600 will spend time at Heffner over two days. “It’s sort of the place to be,” Schanz says.

These facilities may house a number of offices—alumni relations, naturally, but sometimes career development and even admissions, he has found. And besides being the place for official business and events, many of these centers are available for alumni rental. Overnight accommodations may even be an option.

Celebrating graduates occurs every day at campus alumni houses. Having yearbooks, historical records and photos on display is “a big deal for us and I think a big deal for most schools,” says Schanz. “We have an alumni hall of fame section in our library.”

Alumni success images and stories often adorn the walls of the reception area, too—and they’re as likely to be displayed on a flat-screen panel as they are in a frame.

Visitors may well see an iconic campus building outside the windows because alumni houses tend to be strategically placed. “It’s very valuable space, so they want to take advantage of what’s surrounding the house,” Schanz says.

Following are examples of campus alumni houses whose interiors highlight current trends in these facilities.