University officials and students highlighted the importance of community and diversity as they celebrated the opening of the Munger Graduate Residences on Wednesday, a project largely funded by University alum Charles Munger, a real estate mogul.
The residence hall, which houses more than 600 graduate students from 19 colleges and schools in shared, apartment-style units, aims to bring together students from diverse backgrounds.
Business graduate student Marco Hidalgo, who is a Munger fellow, welcomed attendees by describing his experience since he moved into the residence hall. Fellows facilitate community building and serve as floor leaders.
“I’m outside of my comfort zone in every conversation, and I’m really enjoying it,” he said.
University President Mark Schlissel also spoke at the event, discussing the importance of creating a holistic learning experience out of the classroom.
“As I’ve been here now for a year, I’ve come to realize that every moment here is a precious opportunity for students to learn, and of course that learning goes on in classrooms, but the students are only spending a fraction of their time in classrooms,” he said.
Kinesiology graduate student Catherine Cheung said the residence hall fosters a unique sense of community.
“We have absolutely everything we need,” she said. “So much so that the fellows have coined the phrase ‘let me Munger that for you,’ meaning let me search our Munger community for what you’re looking for.”
The project was driven in large part by Munger, both in terms of providing a vision for the final product and funding most of the construction costs. The real estate tycoon had previously funded a similar model of graduate student housing at Stanford University, and his record-breaking $110 million donation to the University in September 2013 was given expressly to fund such a project in Ann Arbor.
E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said Munger brought a unique perspective to the project.
“Charlie’s vision was unconventional,” she said. “It broke a lot of rules about what people thought was possible in graduate education, and it didn’t consult any of the people who thought they should be consulted.”
This approach sometimes drew criticism from students, particularly those who criticized the price tag to live there, which is between $850 and $900 per month, but was originally slated to total about $1,000 monthly.
Schlissel praised the forward-thinking ambition of Munger and credited him for the project’s success.
“He approached the University with a different way of thinking about living and learning space,” Schlissel said. “A way that would purposefully foster the kind of interactions that lead to the connections across disciplines that will actually solve big problems.”
Social Work student Arlene Chandra said living in Munger has been a positive experience so far.
“As a social worker I’m going to be coming across so many different walks of life and I’m going to need to be able to connect with all my clients and what they’ve experienced,” she said. “By living with so many different people, I am able to learn about different topics and how to engage with other students.”