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Campus and Community

Enchanted Gardens, AR and a Clothing Swap: Honors Students Design Campus Communal Spaces

A group of honors program students poses with their project, Serenity Garden, which involves both a posterboard and a diorama.
Written By Keegan Koberl

When incoming University Honors Program students began their orientation course this past fall, program director Jasna Jovanovic asked them to dream up new community spaces of belonging on campus.

First-year honors students congregate outside on campus with their teams.
First-year honors students gather with their teams on campus.

“It’s a good opportunity for the students to familiarize themselves with the campus and also get to know each other even better by hearing what makes them feel a sense of belonging,” said Jovanovic, who created the project as part of the course’s theme: The Science and Culture of Love.

The program uses discussion-based courses like this, along with opportunities for interdisciplinary learning, leadership and community service, to support high-achieving students who apply into the program. The curriculum includes themes of diversity and inclusion, sustainability, ethics, and global perspectives and is meant to enrich and supplement the learning of Honors students in their major programs.

Jovanovic placed the 103 first-year students into interdisciplinary teams. The teams were directed to research and study Cal Poly’s campus and propose a new place that could serve as a space of belonging.

Students gather around a table covered in poster boards and sticky notes as they design a space of belonging.
Honors students work on a project creating spaces of belonging on campus.

Among the suggestions: an augmented reality trip through biomes, a place to relax among the trees, a serenity garden, and an enchanted tea garden.

But that’s not where it ended: all of the students then gave “Shark Tank”-style presentations of their ideas to other students, faculty and staff connected to the Honors Program, who then voted on which ones to show the Cal Poly Facilities Team.

Two proposals were selected to be formally drafted and presented to Facilities: one team’s idea, a clothing exchange called “The Swap,” and another involving multiple teams, with an overarching idea to create “areas of tranquility” on campus.

“Our team was inspired by conversation pits that used to exist at Cal Poly and many other universities in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” said Mira Wakefield, a political science major who contributed to the latter proposal. “We could see the benefit of having a space away from too much technology and too many possible stressors where you could feel at home in nature, but also making sure that it is accessible for all.”

The teams were also influenced by the serenity rooms in Cal Poly’s yakʔitʸutʸu dorms, where all first-year Honors students live, and hoped to create a similar, more accessible experience while drawing attention to the land itself.

“We also want to honor the space on which we live and learn and honor the Northern Chumash, the Indigenous Peoples of San Luis Obispo County, and plant native plants in the space,” said Liam Walsh, a materials engineering student who worked on the proposal. “We hope to have information about these plants as well, so students could learn more about their natural space and community.”

The team that worked on “The Swap” was also inspired by existing campus spaces: in their case, the professional clothing closet, the sustainable fashion club, and the food pantry, according to team member and kinesiology major Solana Martin. She added that the group wanted to incorporate accessibility for lower-income students as well as principles of sustainability.

A diorama of a clothing swap showing clothes, a donation box and decorations.
A diorama of "The Swap" created by students.

“We hope it will create a space for all students to come together, learn about and support slow fashion and find a new part of themselves and meet new people as they shop,” said Gretta Anderson, another member of the team and a psychology major. “In the future, we’d love to see The Swap as a full-fledged campus hotspot for students looking for a new outfit with sustainable fashion.”

Since the presentations, Jovanovic and several Honors students have consulted with members of the Facilities team to possibly make “The Swap” a reality on campus. Whatever the outcome, Jovanovic hopes that the Honors Program experience can continue to help students succeed at Cal Poly and find their spaces of belonging.

And for the Honors students in this class, the program has already become that space.

“The Honors community has been so welcoming during the college transition,” said Stella Cardoso, a mathematics major who worked on the “areas of tranquility” proposal. “There are so many people from different areas across the university who I know are there for me.”

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