People and Community University

Shalala Student Center celebrates 10-year anniversary

Members of the University community gathered to pay tribute to the building that quickly transformed the heart of campus life when it opened a decade ago.
Tracy and Bruce Berkowitz, chairs of the Fairholme Foundation, photographed with Sebastian the Ibis during the anniversary celebration. Photo: Joshua Prezant/University of Miami
Tracy and Bruce Berkowitz, chairs of the Fairholme Foundation, photographed with Sebastian the Ibis during the anniversary celebration. Photos: Joshua Prezant/University of Miami

When the Class of 2006 voted to create an all-new campus center to serve as the hub for student life, little did the students know that the building that was erected in 2013 would hold more than 100,000 events and earn millions of dollars of revenue in just one decade.

At Wednesday’s event celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the Donna E. Shalala Student Center, honorably named after the fifth president of the University of Miami, students and faculty and staff members came together to festively acknowledge the building’s impressive evolution. 

Passersby indulged in free treats from the next-door, student-run restaurant The Rathskeller—from chicken tenders to quesadillas to curly fries. There also were crewnecks from student organization Hurricane Productions and stickers and ice cream from local vendor Walls Old Fashioned Ice Cream. 

Students enjoyed food and giveaways at the celebration.

Among the orange and green balloons and streamers was a banner signed by students that hung over the building’s staircase as a commemoratory backdrop. President Julio Frenk; Patricia A. Whitely, senior vice president for student affairs and alumni engagement; and Student Government President Niles Niseem were among a few of the attendees who spoke about the importance of how far the formerly named Student Activities Center has come.

“Ladies and gentlemen, what we must understand is that Shalala is more than just a building,” said Niseem. “It is the epicenter of culture here on our campus. Now, the question is, after 10 years of such amazing service, after 10 years of standing as a pillar in our community, where do we go onward and upward? Let us continue to strive to make this building a beacon of hope for the past, present, and future.”

Also in attendance was the Berkowitz family, who gave a generous gift to name the facility in honor of Shalala, and the Kornspans, significant contributors to the project.

To show its appreciation for their generous donations, the Student Government created and voted on a surprise piece of legislation to honor the legacy of the families in light of their consistent contributions. Since Student Government is also one of the many student-based organizations housed in the complex, faculty advisor Heather Stevens, associate director for divisional initiatives and student advocacy, brought the idea of honoring the donors to the student officials.

“Without the contributions from these families, I do not think the Shalala Student Center would be what it is today,” said Katrina Hernandez, speaker pro tempore of the Student Government senate.

“I believe that the Berkowitz and Kornspan families have greatly impacted thousands of students through their contributions to the development of the Shalala Student Center,” she added. “In a meeting with [Heather Stevens], the Speaker of the Senate, David Rubin, and I agreed with her idea and discussed how best to craft the legislation so that it could truly express our gratitude to the families. Without the Shalala Student Center, Student Government itself would not be what it is today.”

Frenk delivers remarks at the Shalala Student Center 10-year anniversary celebration

According to Frenk, the legacy the Shalala Student Center has left so far is sure to continue accentuating Lake Osceola as the heart of the University’s campus, one unlike those seen in traditional college campuses.

“Most academic institutions have something called ‘The Quad,’ which is where most of their student activities take place,” Frenk explained to the gathered crowd. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an aquatic quad quite like ours, but this first step to really developing the heart of our campus started right here. And once this iconic building was here, it just set a standard of architectural excellence that we have been following ever since.” 

As the University community looks to the next decade of the student complex’s legacy, many ’Canes think of the three-story center’s walls as a home away from home.

“It is difficult to describe just how much the Shalala Student Center means to me,” said Hernandez. “I truly spend more time there than I do at my own home. I spend time working in the study lounge, meeting with friends at Starbucks, and hanging out in different organizational suites. I’ve met some of my best friends in Shalala and have also made some of my fondest memories there.’’