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USU Heart of Campus Engagement boosts students’ excitement for future plans

By Teagan Davidge

University Student Union (USU) teams have been busy this past month, engaging with students to inform them about future plans for the USU’s Heart of Campus project.

Thanks to a 2019 referendum vote where Matadors approved a USU fee increase of $125 per semester to build the New Heart of Campus, a project is poised to bring new services to renovated USU spaces. The 2024 informational campaign served to inform today’s students about the pending plan and how their fees are at work to provide desired student services.

“I think when students understand where their fees are going, it allows trust within the USU and its students. It gives a sense of transparency so that students feel well informed about where their money is being used,” said Heart of Campus Project Champion Jordan Brown. “It also gives a sense of empowerment to the students that their fees are responsible for the new things being built within the USU.”

Students engaging with USU Heart of Campus Project
Students react as they learn about future plans for the USU’s Heart of Campus project. Photo by Steven Wein.

An original $130 million plan to replace the Northridge Center with new meeting and resource center spaces was halted due to the pandemic. Today, that plan cannot be implemented. Exorbitant costs resulting from external factors during the COVID-19 pandemic include unprecedented increases in construction costs, declining enrollment in colleges and universities nationwide, and rising interest rates due to inflation.

In Oct. 2022, the USU Board of Directors (BOD) chose to re-imagine the project within the constraints of the previously approved $125/semester fee increase, rather than ask students for additional funds. 

Currently, the USU proposes to incrementally apply portions of the fee increase over four years instead of imposing the full amount at once. The graduated increase would begin in 2025–2026 after the opening of the Valera NEST (Nurturing Environment for Students to Thrive), formerly known as the Basic Needs Suite. The Valera NEST will not be a new building, but rather a renovation of current space within the USU. The facility will bring the CSUN Food Pantry, Matty’s Closet, Ila’s Kitchen (a new community kitchen), offices for Basic Needs Care Coordinators and cold food lockers into one central location.

“I’m looking forward to the Valera NEST. I think it’s something new that CSUN as a whole will experience,” said Brown. “As COVID times move farther and farther away from us, it makes me happy that the school is becoming more of a community.”

A student interacts with USU Heart of Campus Project Champion Jordan Brown.
USU Heart of Campus Project Champion Jordan Brown interacts with a CSUN student. Photo by Steven Wein.

A renovation celebration for the Valera NEST was held May 3 with campus dignitaries, donors and supporters. With work anticipated to begin this year, the project has been made possible thanks to champions of Cal State Northridge, Student Affairs and the USU.

“I love the new Valera NEST and I can’t wait to use its resources. The build up for it has been so insane and I’m genuinely excited for that,” said Jaiden Randolph, another Heart of Campus project champion.

A 2023 student survey revealed that among students’ priorities for campus improvements is a centralized center for basic needs, which the USU will address with the Valera NEST. 

Students also desired enhanced food options, better wayfinding within the USU, and additional indoor and shaded outdoor seating options with charging capabilities. The USU plans to implement these renovations with the funds from the $125/semester fee increase over four years, officials said.

“People come up to our tables and get so curious about the Valera NEST and all of our other areas. It’s cool seeing all the people involved, and it is always growing. Every project champion event has really seen growth,” Randolph said. 

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