Free coffee is just one new amenity in the McDougal Center’s interim space

The McDougal Center moved into its interim space at 135 Prospect St. last month, 20 years since its founding.

Amanda Lerner, a Ph.D. student in Slavic languages and literatures, enjoys the McDougal Graduate Student Center’s new temporary home at 135 Prospect St. because it’s a quiet place for her work, while also allowing her to grab a lunch from one of the food trucks parked across the street at Ingalls Rink during the week. In addition, because the center’s interim home is closer to Science Hill and Hillhouse Avenue than its former abode in the Hall of Graduate Students (HGS), she now is able to see and interact more with fellow graduate students in the sciences, social sciences, or engineering who visit to study, grab a coffee, or take part in the many activities that are hosted at the center.

As a McDougal Graduate Student Life (GSL) Fellow last year, Lerner served on the planning committee for the renovations for the McDougal Center’s interim space on the upper floor of Founders Hall, formerly occupied by the School of Management. She’s now seeing how some of that planning has helped to create both a comfortable and welcoming on-campus “home away from home” for her and her Graduate School-student peers.

[T]here is no typical graduate student,” says Lerner. “We work and live in every corner of New Haven, from the upper reaches of East Rock to West Campus. We are single and living in the Hall of Graduate Studies, and we have families and are homeowners in Old Saybrook (these are real examples of graduate students who I personally know). Thus, designing a space that appeals to all different kinds of graduate students is quite a challenge. For me personally … I like having a place on campus where I can work and not be disturbed. Thanks to the card access of the new center, I now have that place.”

The card-entry system at the new McDougal Center, which provides access to graduate school students and their family members or invited guests, is just one of the features of the new location, notes Lisa Brandes, assistant dean for student affairs at the Graduate School and director of graduate student life. The center moved to the new location in September in anticipation of planned renovations to HGS to create a campus humanities hub, starting in summer 2018.

We never had air-conditioning in our HGS location, and our 16 McDougal Graduate Student Life Fellows [graduate and professional students who plan and coordinate activities for their peers] have their own office above ground for the first time,” says Brandes.

The center’s interim space on Prospect Street — lightheartedly referred to by many as McDougal Version 2.0 — boasts a large common room equipped with wifi outlets, café-style seating at tables, and comfortable living-room-style couches and chairs for lounging, studying, socializing, or even napping. The common room serves as both a study and dining area as well a space for larger social gatherings. Large video-screen monitors can be used as bulletin boards to announce news and activities relevant to graduate students or to play music, and there is a microwave for heating food.

In addition to an office for the McDougal GSL Fellows, the center also houses the offices of Brandes and Jennifer Mendelsohn, associate director of graduate student life, and of the Office of Career Strategy and of the fellows of the Office of Graduate Student Development and Diversity. Nearby, in the lower level of the adjoining Watson Center, a classroom is for meetings of the Graduate Student Assembly; another classroom is designated for McDougal GSL workshops, crafting activities, and other events for graduate students and their families; and a separate lactation room is also located on this level. Students can mingle and relax on patio chairs on the Swenson Terrace and in the expanse of tree-dotted lawn known as Caulkins Courtyard, in the rear of Founders Hall, where the annual fall dean’s reception and the Graduate School’s Commencement receptions will now take place.

The lighting is definitely an upgrade,” says Andrew Veilkind, a graduate student in the history of art who represented the Graduate Student Assembly on the planning team for the interim space. “You are surrounded by large windows that allow the natural light to pour in. The windows also offer nice views onto the terrace and courtyard.”

Vielkind was among the graduate students who were able to share their own visions for the new space with the architects responsible for designing the renovations at 135 Prospect St.

We met with the architects several times once we became familiar with the existing space and discussed our preferences for layout, amenities, and aesthetics,” he says. “It was important to retain the informal atmosphere of the common room at 320 York. We wanted to be certain that it would be suitable for multiple purposes, namely socializing, dining, studying, and hosting events. We stressed the need for an abundance of electrical outlets, for one.”

[A] lot of work centered on design and utility of the space,” adds Lerner. “We [the planning committee members] helped pick out furniture, upholstery, flooring, and furnishings. We also had some more philosophical discussions, such as how the center is currently used, how would it be used ideally, and how we can make that happen.”

Graduate students are especially grateful for the free coffee and tea that is available whenever the center is open, says Lerner. “It was a recommendation of the committee to offer free coffee in a BYOM (bring your own mug) system, which should be familiar to our population already thanks to the First Friday at Five BYOM tradition. Personally, I’m quite proud of the travel mugs that the McDougal Center distributed to students at the grand opening. We worked hard at picking out the perfect travel mug and having an easily recognizable design on the mug, and I love seeing it around campus!”

First Fridays at Five, themed happy hour events held monthly, are among the many graduate student gatherings at the McDougal Center, which hosts GSL arts and theater nights, game nights, family events, wellness programs, and more. The GSL Fellows also sponsor off-campus activities for graduate students, such as fall apple picking and hiking and biking trips.

Molly Ryan, a graduate student in pharmacology and the McDougal Graduate Student Life Coordinating Fellow, says she is excited about the programming taking place at the McDougal Center or hosted by GSL Fellows, including First Fridays at Five.

 “The social fellows have some really fun themes planned for this year,” she says. “We’re putting on a haunted tour of New Haven, which is always well attended. The [McDougal] Health and Wellness Fellows are taking students to a pound fitness class (where drumsticks are incorporated into the workout), which looks really cool.” She adds, “I love the outdoor spaces and the opportunities they provide for hosting events. I'm really happy to have updated technology at the new center so that we can connect computers, play music, or show movies in a simple and quick way. I'm mostly just excited to continue putting on events for grad students and I think the new center opens up a lot of new opportunities for that.”

The McDougal Center’s move to its interim location came 20 years after its founding, noted Dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS) Lynn Cooley during a reception for graduate students last month that also celebrated the reopening of the center in its new space and its 20th anniversary. Many of those who helped plan the center 20 years ago were in attendance, including Brandes and former GSAS Dean Thomas Appelquist. As a young faculty member in the psychology department, President Peter Salovey chaired the advisory committee for the new center for graduate students two decades ago.

At the reception, Cooley led a unified cheer for the late Yale College alumnus Alfred McDougal ’53 and his wife, Nancy Lauter, whose generous gift to the university first made the center possible in 1997, and supports it to this day.

The McDougal family wanted to fund the creation of a space where graduate students — many of whom live off campus — could gather together to socialize, study, and participate in events and festivities — in the same way that undergraduates can do so in their residential colleges. At the time, Fred McDougal said, “I have been greatly enriched by my undergraduate experience at Yale. But as I talked to graduate students at a number of campuses, I realized how isolated — and even lonely — the world of graduate students can be. The graduate years are a time when students pursue a more narrow specialization, but a student of French literature, for example, doesn’t cease to be someone who loves to play the cello or soccer or have career concerns. I sensed a real possibility and a need at the university to create a center that could support graduate students in the variety of endeavors that encourage them to be the well-rounded people they are.”

In addition to funding the center facilities and all the McDougal Fellows, the gift from McDougal and Lauter also supports the programming of the McDougal Graduate Student Life office, the GSAS Office of Graduate Student Development and Diversity, the Office of Career Strategy, Graduate Student Teaching Development, and the Graduate Writing Lab. The latter two programs are now housed in the Center for Teaching and Learning.

With the McDougal endowment, we’ve been able to create, recreate, and sustain a nationally recognized set of grad student services in careers, diversity, student life, teaching, and writing, and to appoint over 60 grad student McDougal Fellows each year,” said Cooley, later adding, “Fred has passed on, but his vision and this spirit for creating graduate student life remain with us at Yale, for which we are truly grateful.”

A student studies in the McDougal Center common room.
The common room of the McDougal Center's temporary space is surrounded by windows, providing ample natural light. (Photo by Harold Shapiro)

Brandes says that to her knowledge, the McDougal Center is the only endowed graduate student center in the nation.

We are a full-service student center. Our mission is to provide services that students need when they need them,” says Brandes. “We want them to be happy and engaged.”

Now that the McDougal Center is across from Ingalls Rink, Brandes says she envisions the center hosting grad nights before Yale hockey games, as just one example of a potential first-time activity in the new location.

Although she is not serving as a McDougal Graduate Student Life Fellow this year because she is hard at work on her dissertation, Lerner says she still enjoys the time she is able to spend writing in the interim space.

It’s a nice way to get a change of scenery from my office,” she says. She acknowledges, however, that she’s already thinking about the longer-term future of the center.

We’re really lucky to have this great temporary space, but I look forward to learning what our new, permanent home will be,” Lerner says. According to Brandes, that future location likely will be determined several years from now.

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