The Commons, Otis College of Art and Design

Quick Facts

Otis College of Art and Design 
Otis College of Art and Design
Four-year, private, urban
Total Enrollment: 1,100
Location: Los Angeles, California 

The Commons 
Year Built:
Size: 82,000 sq. ft.
Floors: 1
Annual Operating Budget: $275,000
Director of Student Activities: Mike Luna
Student Staff: 25 part-time
Nonstudent Staff: 1 full-time, 1 part-time

A best practices survey about 10 years ago of peer art and design institutions led Otis College students to vote for creation of an Office of Student Activities and to initiate a $125 per semester activities fee. The college noted, that taken together, the new office and fee would “support the Otis College student, bring increased value to their college experience, and center on educating the ‘whole’ student, in and out of the classroom setting.” 

Otis College of Art and Design, the CommonsChange began quickly after the Office of Student Activities opened its doors in 2011 and $275,000 in student activity fees became available annually. That revenue began funding free music on campus, lectures, comedy shows, movies, special events, and programming for student clubs and organizations. Professional development opportunities for students increased as well with the funding of student leadership positions within the Student Voice Association, Campus Activities Board, Peer Mentor Program, and TISO, the peer mentor program specifically designed for international students. 

Otis College of Art and Design, the CommonsFive years later, in 2016, Otis College was able to open a new student life center and a centralized outdoor community gathering space called The Commons. Within this space exists the Student Life Center, a four-story residence hall, library, college dining hall, auditorium, and a grab-and-go coffee shop. The Student Life Center has become an intimate and unique space where students eat, study, watch television, play video games or table tennis, and connect in one centralized location. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide exposure outdoors to The Commons, which was strategically designed to merge student social and academic life and to better support community building efforts among students, faculty, and staff. 

“As soon as the new outdoor space opened in the fall of 2016, students could be observed participating in more physical activities, which provided a sense of attachment with their peers,” said Director of Student Activities Mike Luna. “This was regarded as important in the life of the college since prior to this expansion there was little to no integration of a student’s academic and social life on campus.” 

Otis College of Art and Design, the CommonsIn 2018, the student activities office launched a student engagement app, Otis Owl Events, which promotes events, provides student leaders with data on utilization, and helps to better understand trends in campus life at Otis. One of the more popular events, Steamroller Printmaking Festival, began in 2011 and involves a large piece of construction machinery, a guest artist, free pancakes, and a full day of student and community artmaking. 

“Our office collaborates with the college’s Letter Press Lab to host a unique event where students are provided the opportunity to print massive woodcarvings with a steamroller,” Luna said. “The college hires a visiting artist to run the steamroller and assist students with carving, inking, and preparing blocks, paper, and supplies for the printing process.” 

Before the end of the current semester, and in collaboration with the college’s technical support division, a revitalization will take place of a resource exchange program to promote sustainable practices and forward-thinking stewardship through recycling and the trading of reusable material goods on campus. A student employee will operate the exchange facility, and students will be able to make trades Monday through Friday. 

Some challenges that student affairs professionals and the college are looking to address in the near future include strengthening efficiencies for the commuter and transfer student communities that could lead to improved retention and graduation rates. Another goal is to identify ways to develop a more robust first-year student experience program that connects student to campus activities and communities at the earliest possible stage.

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