It’s a Starbucks, the UGLi and the Math Lab all in one.
The new Stephen M. Ross Academic Center is a one-stop shop for athletes to access satellite offices of academic resources located around campus such as group study rooms, a 71-station computing lab, classrooms and casual study areas that look more like coffeehouses than traditional libraries.
“I think it’s pretty cutting edge,” said Shari Acho, associate athletic director for academic success. “It’s so decentralized on campus. They don’t just have one building with all the support units.”
Using research from similar centers at other schools, the academic center created with the unique demands of student athletes in mind, all the way down to the last detail.
“We actually used (football defensive tackle) Gabe Watson’s rear-end to size up the chairs,” Acho said. “They were all special ordered and we used our biggest kids (to configure them). But then we did the other extreme, like one of our little gymnasts, to say what would be the appropriate size for a seat so that all of the kids would be comfortable here.”
But while the fireplace, comfy chairs and flat screen TVs in the lobby may suggest otherwise, this 40,000-square-foot center is a serious study place.
“They’ve been asking for ESPN and I said ‘no,’ I won’t let them,” Acho said. “I keep telling them that all we get is CNN.”
The center’s location on State Street next to Yost Ice Arena in the heart of South Campus makes it a convenient spot to merge athletics and academics.
“We used to have study tables in three different buildings,” Acho said. “We were above the police station, in the undergraduate library and in Mason Hall.”
Acho described athletes’ reactions when they first entered the center: “They were like, ‘Is this for us?’ They couldn’t believe it.”
Work crews are still putting the final touches of paint and signage on the building, which opened Jan. 5.
The center is already jam-packed every weeknight from 7 to 10 p.m. and offers a quiet getaway for athletes during the day.
“I work out at the pool, so it’s just a two minute-walk,” said Engineering freshman Christine Kurdys, who is on the water polo team. “It’s great because I can go before and after practice.”
Acho said the new center also serves as a tool to recruit new athletes.
“With all the demands of athletics, parents want to know how my kid is going to go to a place like Michigan – practicing 20 hours a week and in the training room, and competing – how are they going to be able to do that and then also go to a school as elite as the University of Michigan,” Acho said.
But one thing the new Academic Center isn’t is a study hub for the general student population. At least not yet.
The center is currently open to 700 student athletes across campus, but use will be restricted for other students until after this semester, Acho said.
Administrators are waiting to see how much use the building gets before opening it up to student athletes.
“We’d hate to open up, and then our (athletes) not have access to it,” Acho said. “That really defeats the purpose of having an academic center for athletes.”
The idea for an academic center isn’t new, but it didn’t come to fruition until Bill Martin became athletic director in 2000.
“It was my first priority,” Martin said. “I just found that all of our students, regardless of their academic progress, wanted a center where they could study with their fellow athletes, where they could have their own study halls.”
Ross, an alum who donated $100 million to the Business School in 2004, donated a separate $5 million to the Academic Center. Funding for the $12 million structure also included other donations.
“From my standpoint, Michigan is a great academic school,” Ross said. “And too many people think of us as an athletic school –