University Crossing will become the hub of the UMass Lowell campus in the fall of 2014, but it’s already spurring student engagement during its construction. When the final beam was raised on June 19, it bore the signatures of more than 1,400 students and alumni and 100 faculty and staff members submitted electronically from across the country.
“We wanted to include students who couldn’t make it to the topping-off ceremony and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if they could sign even if they couldn’t make it to campus?’ ” says Gerry Nelson, executive director of web services, whose team developed a web application that allowed visitors to sign the beam electronically on a mobile or desktop device. “We came up with the idea, hoped for a few hundred signatures and couldn’t be happier with the response.”
In its first day, more than 100 signatures an hour came through the site. Signing required an official email account with the University, which many alumni signed up for, becoming more engaged with their alma mater in the process. Most signers found the link through social media after friends posted images of their signatures to Facebook and Twitter.
“I just thought, ‘What’s this thing blowing up my Facebook?’ ” says Will Carey ’12 who signed the beam from his office in New York City.
With so much activity on campus, more students and alumni are looking to stay connected with the University’s progress even while away from campus.
“I was thrilled at the chance to sign the beam remotely,” says Johnny Martin ’10, ’13, who signed from his home in Vernon, Conn. “I appreciate the University’s focus on serving the alumni community across the globe by using technology.”
The project also drew interest from people not affiliated with the University. An organization in Maryland contacted the University Relations department and inquired about using the technology for their projects.
“This project would have been very different if we did a few years ago, but mobile advances made it easy and engaging,” says Allen Williamson, the interactive developer who also worked on a virtual groundbreaking game for the new building. “It sets a good precedent for student participation in virtual projects.”
After collecting the signatures over two weeks, the team arranged the 1,500 individual files onto a grid to fit on several large vinyl stickers. The stickers were placed on the 34-foot-long beam before the topping-off ceremony.
Many signatures were simple, listing a student’s name and graduation year or a nickname. Others listed friends, organizations or wishes for the future of the school. Some signers were ambitious, leaving illustrations and sketches. Several people memorialized River Hawks who have passed away, helping friends leave their mark on the building for generations to come. Construction workers and community members signed the beam in person, filling out the entire length of metal with the names of people excited for the University’s future. See photos from the ceremony in the University's Photo Gallery.
The 143,600-square-foot building will be home to a variety of student services and other amenities open to both the campus and the public, including the University’s flagship bookstore, a food court and café, an event space accommodating up to 500 people and meeting rooms. The center will also house the offices of student clubs and related programs.
“The response to the virtual beam signing is an example of the student excitement level around University Crossing,” says Jeff Cournoyer, executive director of public affairs. “Signing the final beam of a building is a long tradition, but this new twist came together nicely to get students engaged with their new center before it’s even complete.”