Penn State Brandywine knows how to change. Since its founding 50 years ago, the campus’s name has switched from Delaware County to Brandywine and it has relocated from a small space in Chester to a 112-acre campus in Middletown Township. It’s most recent change involved the construction of a new residence hall and student union.
Those two buildings could potentially change the trajectory of the campus, which has historically been a commuter campus. On Aug. 17, students, many of them freshmen, moved into Orchard Hall, making Brandywine history.
Students and staff anticipate significant social changes from the new dorm and student union. The two-story student union will include a new dining area with seating for 300, as well as student recreation areas. Orchard Hall will host 250 students on four floors.
Don Brennan, assistant residence life director, see parts of his job as building a community within the new hall. He says that current students were generally “receptive and excited” to the new opportunities of these buildings, although they had logistical questions about how their clubs and activities would change.
“Penn State Brandywine will have a residential population, but the percentage of students will still be majority commuter students coming to campus,” says Brennan, who began his current position in June. “We need to create services for our residential population, but make sure we’re also serving our commuter students, as well.”
From Brennan’s 12 years of residence life experience, he expects that a new dorm will encourage greater engagement in on-campus activities. “It brings a new life to the campus,” he says. Students will be able to focus on their course work, with study spaces and a multipurpose room for lectures and resident advisor programming.
While new students won’t know any different, older students will have to adjust to the changes as they return to campus, many of them for the better. Student Government Association president Neeka Pharaud is no exception. The junior from Upper Darby, who is studying business management, recalls the previous student activity area with slight frustration.
“It was like a first come, first [served] basis. If you weren’t there earlier, that was kind of it for you,” she says of the packed Lion’s Den during events. Pharaud says she is looking forward to the increased space in the new student union, where many more people can participate. She anticipates more students attending school events thanks to the residence hall.
Alongside the many social opportunities in the new buildings, Pharaud says some commuters worry about their place in the campus culture. “I know of accounts of some students who have a slight fear of where precedence is going to be taking place, if it’s going to be for our residents or if it’s going to be for our commuters,” Pharaud says.
Still, she is confident that the commuter-resident culture will work out in the end, with the help of residence life coordinators. Pharaud says she’ll continue to commute, although she says she’d room in Orchard Hall if she could.
Helia Babazadeh, an incoming freshman, will be living in the new dorm. The computer science major from Gladwyne views living on campus as the “full college experience,” and looks forward to making friends within that dynamic. “I’m excited because I know I’m going to be the first to be in that dorm,” Babazadeh says.
With all the changes taking place at Brandywine, Pharaud, Babazadeh and other students can depend on the campus continuing to look to the future.