A historic brick building at the heart of campus has been transformed into the University of Northern Iowa’s new front door. 

The Admissions Welcome Center, which opened in August, provides prospective students a bright, welcoming space complete with views of the Campanile, monitor featuring the day’s visiting “Future Panthers” and colorful video display highlighting how the university helps students reach their goals. 

“We wanted this to be a memorable space for prospective students - a spot that future alumni will recall from the first time they stepped foot on campus,” said admissions director Terri Crumley. “Campus visits are a crucial part of the recruitment process, and I’m pleased at how the university has stepped up its efforts to welcome visitors to campus.” 

The 4,100-square-foot space located next to the Curris Business Building was originally constructed in 1932 as a maintenance building (the word “Shops” is still carved in stone above a lower-level door) and later transformed into an art studio. Most recently, the Facilities Design and Construction offices, as well as custodial offices, were housed in the facility.

A renovation project added a new presentation hall with seating for about 55 people and a large projector screen, main space with “Panthers” written in purple text on the ceiling, upstairs conference rooms and an elevator to ensure accessibility. 

“That first impression is huge,” said admissions events coordinator Shelly Christensen, who served on the planning committee. “We wanted it to have that wow factor.”

Until this summer, visiting students and their families first went to Gilchrist Hall, gathering in a lobby that sometimes got crowded as others passed by to change their class schedule, pay tuition or get a vehicle sticker. The new space is dedicated solely to prospective students. 

The timing was perfect, Christensen said, allowing UNI to welcome visitors to campus Monday through Saturday in a building that allows for social distancing during the pandemic. Currently, the center is running welcome sessions that allow up to seven visitors at a time, each of them bringing up to two guests. 

Chairs in the main entry and the presentation space have been marked off to allow for social distancing between the groups of up to three. Morning and afternoon sessions are spaced apart so they don’t overlap and the building is cleaned thoroughly between sessions.  

The renovation project has been a hit so far and admissions staffers welcome the rest of campus to come see the new building. 

“Not only do we really like it, but the guests really enjoy it,” Christensen said.