Building Community Together

Building Community Together

Northwest Nazarene University
Jan 8, 2020

By Cali Carpenter, Class of 2017

Over the past six decades, many different partners have come together to create a place for students to build community. Through it all, one thing has remained the same: NNU’s ongoing commitment to students. Join us as we journey through the past, present and future of a campus space that has been instrumental in contributing to a transformational experience for NNU students.


The year was 1957 and Northwest Nazarene College (NNC) student leaders were heading to Victory Cove Campground for a weekend retreat in McCall, Idaho. One of the big discussion items on their agenda was dreaming about a brand new space on campus that would give students a place to gather and could host student-centered activities. It was during that weekend that the leaders turned their dreams into a plan of action. With input from the student council, Student Body President Dick Ramsey appointed students to take the lead on planning for what would be called the Student Center. Jerry Hull, sophomore class representative, was named chair of the new Student Center committee and was charged with working with students and administration to find a way to bring the idea to life.

The need for this new building was ever-pressing, but the funds were not there to support it. Creativity kicked in, and the committee came up with the idea of partnering with students to provide the finances for the new building. Hull took the idea to students and delivered a speech in chapel to encourage a “yes” vote to raise the student activities fee an additional $5, totaling $15 per semester. A vast majority of students approved and, with help from the administration, the plan was off and running.

As the funds were being raised and the new Student Center was being constructed, the committee worked with school administrators to create a temporary Student Recreation Center. They altered the ground floor of the west wing of Mangum Residence Hall (located where the current Helstrom Business Center stands) and, in January 1958, cut the dedication ribbon. The very first community-focused space was born.

“I think one of the things that made the Student Center happen was the support of 500 students who voted to increase their fees with almost no ‘no’ votes,” Hull said.

As important as this partnership was, it went much deeper than just financial support. Not only did students agree to help fund the new Student Center, but they also gave of their time to make the new Rec Center maintainable. A large number of student volunteers helped operate the facility and take care of it on a daily basis.

“The student ownership and student participation was critical,” Hull explained.

NNC President Dr. John Riley and Mr. Warnie Tippitt, the dean of students, were also crucial contributors in making the Student Center a reality. They were instrumental in getting the school administration to sign off, which made the plan possible. Hull recalled Dr. and Mrs. Riley gathering extra sofas from their home and moving them over to the Rec Center space so students had seating. It was all-hands-on-deck when the plan moved into motion, and it wouldn’t have been possible without students and administration partnering together to improve the campus.

The re-worked space featured a record player with top-of-theline speakers, a reading room, television room, snack center, game rooms and ping pong.

“It was an alternate space for a wide range of recreation activities, including, probably—heaven help us—some moments of dancing [which was] banned at NNC,” Hull said jokingly. This new temporary center served as a supplement to The Bean, a favorite place to obtain short order food and crowd into tables for conversations.

Hull is a strong believer in the power of having a physical location that encourages the development of community, and the first Student Recreation Center provided exactly that. “We were able to create a place and space where we could gather and be together, energize one another, challenge one another and mentor one another. We were all bound together, and I celebrate that,” he said. According to Hull, the experiences and memories made in this place played a monumental role in shaping the trajectory of his life.

Over the next two years, the student fee increase produced an operating and furnishings budget of $2500 each semester. These funds provided the means to complete the building, and, in the fall of 1961, the new Student Center opened. This intentionally created space played a significant role in the development of community on campus as students had a destination to eat, gather and do life together.

This major undertaking would not have been possible without the overwhelmingly positive support from students, the administration and a determined leadership team with a commitment to creating a space that would foster community. These powerful partnerships laid the groundwork in creating a campus culture centered around community.

What started out as a distant dream at a campground in the mountains paved the way for future generations. As campus transitions out of the original Student Center into the new Conrad Commons, Hull wants to challenge the campus community to seize this blessing. Hull’s prayer is that the legacy that began so long ago in creating an intentional space for students will continue transforming them through education and community and that every individual who steps through the doors will be molded into the person God has created them to be.


The Conrad Commons has been 20 years in the making—20 years of dreams, 20 years of conversation and 20 years of plans. The space is a culmination of the work from students past and present, donors, faculty, staff, architects, parents, administration—the list goes on and on. Countless partners played a role in bringing the Conrad Commons to life, and through the influence and insight of each person, what was once just an aging facility is now an impressive building that has taken its place at the center of NNU’s community.

The administration first identified the need for a new space when they realized that, over time, the Student Center had become merely a pass through for students to eat a meal and retrieve their mail—which was far from the intended use of the building. It became very evident that “campus needed a space that could truly be a Student Commons, with the main function of the building being to build the campus community and bring people together—a gathering place,” Vice President for Student Life Carey Cook explained.

Ideas for this building have floated around for years, but it wasn’t until 2014 that plans solidified and all of the moving parts started to come together. It was a long and extensive five-years-inthe-making process, but, at last, all of the collaboration and hard work came to fruition. The Conrad Commons was dedicated on November 8, 2019 during Homecoming & Family Weekend, and the NNU community took full occupancy in January 2020.

“It is the front door and the living room to campus,” Cook said as he described the space. It was designed so that the space could be flexible in its uses, making it a unique addition to campus. It can be used for many different activities and groups, all while keeping community-building as the central focus.

The space was designed to serve students well while also allowing for collaboration and partnerships between the campus offices. Offices for the Student Government Association, Journey’s Outdoor Recreation Club, campus clubs, Student Life, University Mission & Ministry, Career Development and the Admissions Welcome Center are all located in the Conrad Commons. Every square inch of the building was designed with intention behind it. Student Life, Spiritual Life and Career Development are all within an arm’s reach of each other for a reason—to foster growth in all aspects of the students’ lives and spark transformation of the whole person.

The building also has spaces for students to grow together organically. There are conference halls where student-led events take place, such as Timeout and SGA events, but there are also smaller more intimate spaces and lounge areas scattered throughout the building for studying and connecting with friends. The Dining Hall also has a home in the Conrad Commons and serves as a central gathering place for the building. With significant increased seating options, students, faculty, staff and campus visitors alike are able to share a meal together and take a seat at the table.

“The Conrad Commons cornerstone reads, ‘Education flourishes in community,’ and we want the building to live into that statement,” Cook said. “It will foster friendships and bring our students together in a greater way. We want this building to enhance our community—giving students the opportunity to further develop their education and be in a space where transformation can occur.”

Not only will this building change the lives of those on NNU’s campus, but it will also provide the university opportunities to partner with the Boise Valley in ways that simply haven’t been possible before. The space will allow NNU to host additional conferences and events, and it will allow people unfamiliar with NNU to step on campus to see and experience why this place has become home for so many.

The Conrad Commons is a picturesque display of NNU’s commitment to student transformation, and it would not have been made possible without every single partnership that has been fostered along the way. NNU extends a special thank you to the astounding generosity from the following families, organizations, and individuals who gave to support the costs of the building: the Conrads, the Waldens, the Hills, the Palmans, Sodexo, and every other donor, large and small. Because of you, this building will change the lives of students for generations to come. Campus anticipates all the fruit that will come from this new, blessed space on campus.


Classrooms and lab spaces bursting at the seams. Record numbers of first-generation college students attending NNU. Growing demand for well-prepared nurses. A recently vacated building. An answer to prayer.

As NNU students begin building community and making memories in the Conrad Commons, plans for what will become of the original Student Center have begun. NNU’s student centric focus that was the impetus for the very first Student Recreation Center—and integral in the construction of the Conrad Commons—continues to breathe life into the dreams and vision for new uses of the original Student Center. Just as was the case with the others, the repurposed center will depend upon NNU’s partnerships with supporters who continue to value and invest in the future of NNU students.

“The College of Nursing Expansion allows us to invest strategically into the future of NNU so we can most effectively meet the needs of our student body,” Vice President for External Relations Mark Wheeler said.

The remodeled space will be home to a growing nursing department, a new centralized “one-stop shop” for student services, a modernized campus store and updated admissions offices, which will benefit students, the university and the community as a whole.

Whether it’s paying a bill at the financial aid office, picking up a package from the mailroom or reviewing a class schedule at the registrar’s office, students will be able to have their needs met more effectively and efficiently. In addition, the repurposed building will allow for increased lab space and classrooms for the growing nursing department, which will allow the College of Nursing to expand its program. This will enable NNU to better accommodate more nursing students which, in turn, will help prepare a higher number of qualified nurses to go into health care facilities to care for an aging and underserved population.

The estimated cost for the project is $8.5 million, of which $4.1 million has already been raised by generous partners who recognize the importance of continuing to invest in supporting NNU students. Alums Jerry and Muriel Caven are key partners who have provided a lead gift of $3 million. The Cavens have personified the mission and values of NNU as they intentionally integrate Christian faith into all aspects of their lives.

“Jerry and Muriel have been generous supporters of NNU in myriad ways, both seen and unseen, for decades,” said Wheeler. “Their support of NNU has and continues to affect the direction and impact NNU is having on the lives of our students and those whom they come in contact with. NNU is a materially different place because Jerry and Muriel chose to partner with us.”

According to Muriel Caven, “We look forward to seeing how God will use His blessings in our lives to bless others through this gift.” She adds, “We pray for NNU to continue to stand firm on the foundation of God’s Living Word. This will allow contributions to not only last a lifetime for the students who receive a good education, but the impact will last for eternity because of the spiritual influence that NNU can have.”

These places on campus do, indeed, have an impact on students as they experience community, connection and transformation.

NNU is incredibly grateful to all of its partners—from the students who envisioned and funded the original Student Center, to the partners who made the Conrad Commons a reality, to those who have already committed and we know will commit to the College of Nursing Expansion project that is underway. As NNU continues to invest in providing spaces where transformation can occur, we acknowledge and celebrate that it takes all of us working together to preserve and amplify the NNU community that is indeed, here for good.