Students, faculty and staff at The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Division of Marine Science located within the Stennis Space Center (SSC) in Hancock County came together this year to transform an unused and forgotten section of the campus into a vibrant courtyard for members of the Marine Science community.
The project came together after Kristina Mojica, assistant professor in the School of Ocean Science and Engineering (SOSE), facilitated several student town halls to learn more about students’ needs on campus. Through these discussions, the topic of utilization of student fees was discussed, leading to a student consensus for the creation of a gathering space.
“We sent out a vision board so that students could contribute their vision for this space,” said Mojica.
The campus provides limited options for constructing additions or making modifications to buildings and space is limited, so the challenge was figuring out how utilize existing space. Nestled in the middle of one of the buildings was an outdoor area with trees and other vegetation. The idea of renovating the area and creating an atrium as a student gathering place moved forward.
From the vision board, Mojica in collaboration with other faculty and staff ordered supplies and equipment. Landscapers were brought in to professionally remove bushes and cut back trees. The area was then pressure washed and ready for USM community to take over the project.
USM faculty, staff and students built new garden beds, assembled courtyard furniture, and helped move 10,000 pounds of landscape rock. Through this group effort, the atrium was completed in six months.
Luis Altamirano Perez, a Ph.D. student in the Marine Science (Hydrography) program, was involved in a few roles to help complete the atrium and is excited to tell others about its availability.
“Creating spaces where students can hang out is very valuable and very important,” Perez said.
“Many students also used the space to pray during the day.” Perez also said.
Ardian Rizal, a second year Marine Science graduate student, also helped with logistics of the atrium. He’s grateful to have a place to relax in as well as spend time with other classmates, faculty and staff throughout the day.
“When I go to Stennis, I use the space to have lunch,” said Rizal.
The atrium had its grand opening Dec. 8, with many attendees on hand to admire its completion and participate in the first planting of the community garden. Which included many edible winter hardy plants and herbs, as well as black and gold decorative flowers.
“It really is a community project,” Mojica said. “It took an unused and forgotten space and turned it into something really beautiful, while bringing together our community.”
(Story contributed to by Gabriela Shinskie)