Director of the University Union, Zane Reif, and what he asks of the UNT community

Zane Reif, Director of the University Union

Well, I am doing it.  This is my first blog entry…ever!  The truth is I have always admired those individuals that felt passionate about something to share it with the entire world, whether for better or worse.  Passion is a great thing.  I get excited when I see people that are passionate about something whether that is a relationship, work, or a worthwhile cause.

Passion can be addictive and it allows the average person to accomplish great things.  I feel very fortunate to be at the University of North Texas right now because the students have an opportunity to do something great, and that great thing is to build a University Union that can impact the direction of this university for years to come.  I have seen firsthand what a student union can mean to a campus.  It can create a sense of excitement unlike anything else because this is truly the one building that students can call their own.  Sure, students pay for facilities all over this campus.  Generally, these buildings are operated by administrators or faculty members with limited input from students on the design or use.  A student union, by its very nature, is a place for students to congregate and interact with one another.  It is a symbol of the tradition and values of the campus, and a place where students decide what is in their best interest.

With that being said, I feel compelled to talk to you about our new master plan to expand/renovate the University Union at the University of North Texas.  For me and many others, the student union is much more than the physical structure.  It is a place where students can volunteer, lead, socialize, and practice skills that will eventually lend themselves to become active leaders in the community of their choosing.  Fifteen years ago, a student union would change my life forever.

I was a twenty-year old junior at the University of Southern Colorado (now Colorado State University-Pueblo) and I had just been invited to the Dean of Students office for a small infraction of the Student Code of Conduct.  The reason?  I’ll save that for another story.  I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.  Dr. Richard Hill told me that I was a good kid and he believed in me.  He thought I had a little too much time on my hands and I should think about getting a job in the Occhiato University Center, so (1) I would keep myself out of trouble and (2) he could keep an eye on me.  Well, I searched for a few on-campus positions and saw a posting for a publicity assistant in the Student Activities Board.  A publicity assistant is code for cheap labor.  I ran around for hours taking down old posters, putting up new ones, and cleaning up the SAB office.  Margaret Will, Director of Student Activities, worked with me on a daily basis.  That first year, she challenged me to be a better person.  She taught me to appreciate diversity, challenged my value system, and encouraged me to volunteer for bigger and better things.  Little did I know that she was setting me up to become a future leader at USC.  The Occhiato University Center changed my life because it exposed me to great people, great programs, and great people.  Over the next three years, I would volunteer and work in various areas of my student union.  I would volunteer with the Student Government Association and the Accounting Club, I would work as a Building Manager, and eventually, I became the president of SAB, which to this day, is still one of my biggest thrills.  Each of these experiences was an opportunity for me to grow and develop, and they would not have been possible had it not been for a student union.

Over a decade and a half later, I still keep up with a number of people from the Occhiato University Center because they were my first family away from my parents.  The student union took care of me, raised me, and taught me to be a better person.  I hung out in the student union…I ate there, I laughed there, I cried there, went on dates there, worked there, studied there, and when the time came to give back to the Occhiato University Center, I did that too.  It was such a special place and I still get chills when I walk in there because it led me to a career path that I love so much…one that I am truly passionate about.

University of North Texas students…your opportunity to give back is now!  There are very few times in your collegiate career where your voice will get heard as much as it will in this process of renovating and expanding the University Union.  I ask that you be as vocal as possible, telling us what you want in the facility, what you don’t like, and what you can’t live without.  I ask that you challenge the process and use the many students sitting on the Master Plan Committee to express your opinions to consultants and architects.  Visit my office on the fourth floor of the University Union, comment on Facebook, tweet, and attend the town hall meetings sponsored by the Student Government Association.

The student union can have everything you want and it can be a magical place that will impact the entire campus, but it can’t happen unless you express your opinions…for or against, good or bad, small or large…because the only way it will get done correctly, is if it is done by you…the students.  It is a great responsibility, but one I believe that you are ready to take on.  I can’t wait to share my blogs with you over the next year, and I hope that you stop by to introduce yourself to me, so we can talk about what is going on with the process.

Passion is a great thing.  Your Union. Your Voice.