What started as a class assignment for Ehlana Struth and Sarah Cox about building a treehouse on campus to attract prospective students, ended up attracting the attention of all who heard the presentation. Their idea laid the groundwork for Corban’s next big construction project – an on campus treehouse.
Treehouses have been a rising trend in the pacific northwest for the past few years and a treehouse on campus would be a distinctive feature that would set Corban apart from almost any other university.
However, the treehouse would be more than just a selling point to potential students. This is a project thought of by students, made by students and created for students to further a sense of strong community.
Struth and Cox were the minds behind the idea, but Sam Campbell, who just graduated last year, helped make building the treehouse a reality.
Campbell saw how students desired to find a place where they could hang out and feel welcomed. To her, the treehouse was part of the solution to this problem.
“I had noticed, even before my internships, that students around campus want a place of belonging, but they don’t necessarily know where that is,” she said.
Provost Matt Lucas heard Struth and Cox’s presentation and decided to pursue making the treehouse a reality. For him, it embraced Corban’s unique character.
“For me, [having a treehouse] is not being different for the sake of being different,” Lucas said. “It’s different with the ethos of Corban in mind. We have an absolutely gorgeous campus that’s full of trees. People talk about it all the time. Let’s not try to make Corban be what other schools are; let’s try to capture the ethos of Corban University.”
Lucas, like Campbell, sees the treehouse as a space for students to be in besides dorms and lobbies.
“As I reflect back on my college experience and I think about what college is meant to do, especially in a school that emphasizes the liberal arts and thinking about where God is calling in your life, you need places to dream and think and to talk,” Lucas said.
In order to keep the project focused on the student body, Campbell immediately began gathering student opinions after she was chosen for the internship.
“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t the only person who thought it was a good idea,” Campbell said. “I decided to get student’s opinions about it. I wanted to know the pros and cons and extinguish any rumors or bad talk that may have been going around. I held a series of focus groups and I just wanted to talk and see if this was something that they wanted.”
After finishing what she called “stage one,” she assembled a team of students to help her with the project.
“I liked how organic it was, how raw it was and that I didn’t know what I was doing, but they kind of liked that we were on this adventure together,” Campbell said.
Caleb Towers, who took over as project manager after Campbell left, believes the student-run aspect is an important element of the project.
“I am passionate about how this is a student collaboration,” Towers said. “I took the liberty to label this a ‘Collaborative Experience,’ and I believe that is exactly what it is for the students working on the project: a combustion of student ideas, goals and perspectives, and that is the catalyst behind the Treehouse’s success.”
As the project progressed, Campbell experienced both positive and negative feedback.
“I got a lot of, I wouldn’t say hate mail, but I would say I got a few emails through our treehouse email account that weren’t the nicest of things,” Campbell said. “They were very harsh on the project, not towards me but towards the project. I put out a survey around September, before I had the focus groups, and some people were very harsh on that as well.”
Whatever the reasons were for the negative feedback, Lucas was able to confirm the treehouse would not have an impact on students financially.
“We can afford to do this as a university without taking money from tuition,” Lucas said. “There is no money coming from tuition. We’re using student fees and donations to pay for this.”
Despite the setbacks and stress that came along with leading the treehouse project, Campbell believed it was worth the effort because of the treehouse project’s mission to create a sense of unity and belonging.
“I wanted a middle ground. I wanted a place where both commuter and dorm people can come and just mingle with one another,” Campbell said. “I think a lot of students wanted that as well. People just wanted a place to hang out that wasn’t so cliquey.”
Towers wants to see Campbell’s vision accomplished and hopes that the treehouse is a reflection of Corban and the students here.
“I want the Treehouse to be a staple that reflects Corban, as well as having a positive effect on our campus,” Towers said. “We want to look at this project when it is all done and be able to say that students did this, and it’s going to make Corban proud. I think that is why it is worth building, the unique opportunity this brings to bring people to Corban and enhances the experience we have here as students.”