Arizona Student Unions director focuses on student input, feedback
Since he first began as director of the Arizona Student Unions last semester, Jason Tolliver has been working to utilize student thought and input in his decision making.
Last summer, Tolliver began integrating a plan he refers to as “Arizona Student Unions Reimagined” that, along with dimensions such as rebranding, refocusing and refining, includes the opportunity for students to reach out and give feedback regarding the student unions around campus.
The idea, Tolliver said, is that the student unions really act as living rooms for students on campus.
“When you have students that are coming from all over the states,” Tolliver said, “really all over the world, [and] they’re coming to a university campus, it’s important that we provide places and spaces that they can connect, that they can meet other people, that they can engage.”
By providing a place where students can just relax and hang out, it can also boost the university retention rate, Tolliver said, adding that students who feel more connected to their university are more likely to stay there.
Denell Coon, a pre-business freshman, said she goes to the Student Union Memorial Center every day to get breakfast because she lives on campus.
“I think it’s a good spot just because it’s somewhere everybody can come and everybody knows where it is,” Coon said, adding that she believes it’s important for people like Tolliver to listen to student input. “We’re the ones that are here, actually going to school here and paying for it, so I think it’s important for the students to feel comfortable.”
In order to provide an opportunity to hear student feedback, Tolliver has taken a more hands-on approach. This semester, he began hosting a forum called “Tuesdays with Tolliver,” where students, staff and faculty were able to speak with him directly about what they would like to see in the student unions.
“It provides a great sounding board for me,” Tolliver said. “Especially coming into a new place, to hear from the students directly.”
Todd Millay, assistant director of the Arizona Student Unions said more students are reaching out and providing input via e-mail than ever before.
“He’s a young man. I think that’s one of the things why he resonates with students pretty well,” Millay said. “You know, and that’s why he likes to be engaged with students because he’s not far removed from that experience as well. And he likes to hear what they have to say.”
Along with student input, Tolliver is also utilizing student ideas for future concepts, including allowing students to design and pitch a concept.
On Monday, students from UA Professor of Art Jackson Boelts’ Art 465/565 class, lined the walls of their classroom with design templates to pitch to staff members of the Arizona Student Unions for a new food truck concept.
Each student in the class took turns pitching their ideas, covering potential themes, menus, logos and employee uniforms.
Some featured the UA’s red and blue color schemes, while others used a play on words, such as “Cat Food,” or “Cat Cravings.”
“This is a really great opportunity for students to work on real projects,” Boelts said. “The thing about a project like this is it really gets the students seriously thinking about how to solve a problem that a client may have and doing it in a very interesting and creative way.”
The top choices for the food truck concepts will eventually be displayed in SUMC, where students can vote for their favorite idea to be integrated into campus.
The idea, Tolliver said, is for the new concept to be student-centered and student-driven. However, his plan doesn’t just affect students.
Tolliver has a monthly staff council meeting but a few months in, he was told he didn’t understand certain things about working in the student unions. This prompted Tolliver to start working in various operations around the student unions. So far, he has worked at On Deck Deli and Chick-fil-A, from cashiering to making French fries.
By understanding the actual space and what the staff goes through, Tolliver said it becomes possible to set realistic expectations for each operation.
Though some changes have already been implemented, like the new Starbucks near the Main Library, many more are underway for next semester, including a new Eller Deli concept, a ready and available food truck and a new catering concept complete with a new menu.
Tolliver will also be looking into more engagement pieces for students to be able to provide information regarding different concepts around the student unions.
“This union belongs to the students of the University of Arizona,” Millay said. “It’s your [students] ship, we’re just steering it.”
- Follow Alison Dorf @AlisonRaeDorf