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Cultivating a quality campus

Friday, August 15th, 2014 | Posted by


By Nick Walden / Towns Correspondent

SSU1When choosing a college there is one important factor sometimes overlooked: quality of life. The campus setting is one aspect that many graduating students have noted as playing an important role in the overall quality of life experienced when on the campus and beautiful campuses tend to rank highly in that regard.

Until recently Sonoma State University was not often considered one of the top schools in the country, let alone state, based on beauty; but times have changed.

The Princeton Review, a company that annual ranks schools based on a range of categories and polling students, uses both ‘most beautiful campus’ and ‘least beautiful campus’ in their ranking system.

The website ‘Thebestcolleges.org’ recently comprised a ranking for “The 50 Most Amazing College Campuses for 2014″ and Sonoma State found itself placed at 34 out of all the colleges in the nation. They were just ahead of Duke University and Whitman College, both schools that regularly rank very highly in annual polls of beautiful campuses.

According to Thebestcolleges.org, polling they have conducted of recent college graduates has shown that the campus setting and campus beauty plays a vital role in overall quality of life and satisfaction of the total college experience.

While SSU might not possess the rich architectural history of some of the schools that have a century or more under their belt, what it does have is a combination of landscaping, modern buildings and a focus on sustainability and renewability that makes the school unique among some of its peers on the list.

DSC_0908The school is nestled among 269 acres of lush landscaping that includes approximately 10,000 trees comprised of over 200 varieties and a multitude of other flora that provides a stunning background for education.

According to Christopher Dinno, Associate Vice-President for Administration and Finance, a small contingent of 20 full-time Landscape Specialists maintain the landscape including athletic fields. Each landscaper is responsible for their own “zone” of the campus which is why areas might have slight differences in style and arrangement.

With a focus on sustainability and being environmentally friendly, the SSU campus has become one of the top “green” campuses in the country for small universities.

“We are always cycling through certain areas on campus to try to improve the aesthetic look and replace dead and dying plants, trees and ground cover,” Dinno said. “From a sustainability perspective we use reclaimed water throughout all of the campus landscape areas. We try to select drought tolerant plants and trees that are native to the area when possible.”

There is also a strong connection between how landscaping and buildings connect. Older buildings, such as Stevens Hall, is the classic grey-stone building with green ivy and small greens that mirror more of a classic institutional look while newer areas boast a more modern style.

Although the entire campus has a certain lush beauty, there are quite a few remarkable areas that stand out from the rest:

Top Spots on Campus

  • The Green Music Center – The northern entrance of the campus has been revitalized with the edition of the Green Music Center. The highly touted Weill Hall offers a unique setting for students to practice and perform on the same stage as professionals. The education wing and Schroeder Recital Hall boast modern amenities combined with an aesthetic style that compliments the campus while the outdoor spaces are spacious, quiet and serene.
  • The Lakes – Nestled on the north end of the campus near Copeland Creek is The Lakes area. Completely man-made, the lakes features two lake-areas separated by the Commencement Lawn. Constant fountains of water, a small island accessible by a foot bridge and shady spots for students and ducks alike to relax make this a popular destination for students. The Alumni Grove and Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove offer quiet contemplation spots on the east side while the schools’ art gallery is to the west.
  • Zelkova Lane – Leaving the Lakes and heading east many students find themselves on Zelkova Lane which is unique on campus due to its distinctive “East Coast” flavor, according to Neil Markley, an Associate Vice-President at the school. Trees line either side of the lane to provide a multicolored canopy of leaves that changes hue throughout the year as students traverse between classes.
  • The Student Center – At nearly 59,000 square feet, the center is a model for colleges around the country, according to Thebestcolleges.org, because it was built with sustainability in mind. Using UV reflective roofing, recycled rubber indoor track, recycled wine barrels and even recycled seat belts along with reclaimed water, the building is a strong example of the environmentally friendly focus of the campus. Inside the center there are modern ballrooms, offices and unique seating and study areas for students along with Lobo’s Pub and the distinctive Overlook restaurant with its expansive views of the campus.

While those are some of the top spots on campus, there are spots everywhere that students and faculty enjoy. A myriad of walking trails and quiet spaces provide a wonderfully close relationship to nature while the thousands of trees provide a bountiful selection of shady spots to study or unwind.

Even the walking paths in the student housing sections have flowers and vines that provide a canopy-like cover while fountains provide a musical backdrop of sounds to the bustle of campus-life.

You only get one chance to make a first impression and that concept applies to a college campus as much as anything else. While education majors, sports and financial aid are always part of the decision as to what campus to attend, the beauty of the campus plays an important role as well.



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Nick Walden is our Rohnert Park + Cotati correspondent.
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