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Walk around campus these days and you can’t help but notice all of the construction. From the launch of the Price Center East to the creation of a new transfer housing complex, the university is working hard to establish a new downtown neighborhood and add more on-campus housing for students. When the dust settles and the projects are complete, Housing and Dining Services Executive Director Mark Cunningham says we’ll reach our goal of being able to accommodate half of our student population on campus. In this interview, Mark talks about our aggressive housing plans and how the campus has evolved since he arrived here in 1980.

Q UC San Diego has an aggressive plan to add more on-campus housing. When will we reach our goal of housing 50 percent of our student body?

Photo of Mark Cunningham Cunningham: We have been able to advance a number of projects in our housing master plan simultaneously instead of sequentially thanks to the support of Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and the campus. With the opening of our newest graduate housing complex last year and our current construction, we have actually exceeded the 50 percent goal for graduate and professional student housing. We currently house approximately 34 percent of our single undergraduates and we’re adding just over 2,500 new beds in the next three years. With completion of these efforts in 2011, we will house just slightly over 13,000 students, which will get us to our goal. And then we expect to continue with our growth plan and we will initiate the second phase of our new housing projects starting in 2012.

Q What are some of the major Housing and Dining projects underway?

Cunningham: We’re currently adding housing for more than 1,000 transfer students on the northwest end of the campus.  We’re adding beds at both Revelle and Muir Colleges, and housing for graduate and professional students in the Health Sciences neighborhood.  We’re also creating a complete community around the transfer housing project with a bookstore and café.  In addition, we’re renovating two existing dining facilities at Revelle and Muir, as well as working on several smaller renovation projects of existing facilities.

Q Tell me about some of the recommendations that were implemented in response to the undergraduate and graduate student experience and satisfaction surveys.

Cunningham: I am personally very appreciative of the folks who gave of their time to make these surveys happen.  It helped set the direction for the campus in terms of advancing so much new housing.  It was clear that our undergraduate and graduate students wanted more on-campus housing and we’ve focused on that goal.  We have a large number of initiatives in the areas of housing policies and procedures, sustainability, dining, cost management, and program improvements that tie directly to these two reports, and I expect that we will continue to look at opportunities to implement relevant recommendations in the future.

Q What importance does Housing and Dining place on environmental sustainability?

Cunningham: Since 2005, our department has had its own website, “Major Planet,” dedicated to sustainability. I’m very proud to say it was conceived, developed, designed and implemented by my staff because we realize the role we play in the sustainability effort. We are committed to have all our new housing, and our dining remodels, LEED-Certified Silver. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) is the nationally recognized green building rating system. We also plan to hire a new sustainability coordinator position within Housing and Dining Services to further support our departmental efforts, as well as provide assistance and programmatic support to our residents in implementing their ideas. We work with students, staff and faculty to look at new ways to lessen our impacts on the environment and we have active programs in recycling, composting, and energy and waste reduction.

Q Tell me how the face of the university is changing with the recent, current and future construction.

Cunningham: I’ll go one step further and offer my view of the past since I’ve been on campus just over 28 years (disclaiming that it is just my view and not necessarily anywhere near fact).  In the early part of my career here, it felt like we had all this land and could afford to build one- and two-story buildings, and maintain an almost rural feel, with lots of space and a few buildings sprinkled around.  Then, as UC San Diego’s prominence rose, the campus began its meteoric rise and so did the buildings, both in number and in height.  Space began to fill up and we began to feel more suburban with a higher density and less open space. 

Now, we are looking to the future and planning for even greater density and, without a doubt, we will become a much more urban campus.  Land is a precious resource and we have to manage its use responsibly.  For example, my future housing projects will be almost exclusively mid- to high-rise instead of two- and three-story walk-ups.  We have a responsibility to our future students, faculty and staff to not use up all of our land resources. 

Fun Faves

Favorite place on campus: The Martin-Johnson House at SIO (aka T-29) has some of the most beautiful views in the world and it’s my dream office.

Favorite eatery on campus: I’m sure this is going to sound like an oxymoron, as I am the Housing and Dining Director, but I’m going with Porter’s Pub.  Every campus needs a funky, relaxed pub, and it meets and exceeds those two criteria for me.

BEAR Favorite Stuart Collection piece: Tim Hawkinson’s Bear ROCKS!

Favorite UCSD tradition/event: Open House (when we hold it) is a great event that brings the campus and the San Diego community together.

Favorite subject in college: University of Georgia football, thus the reason I didn’t go into medicine or law as I (and my parents) had originally envisioned. 

Favorite book: Now I wish I had read some really deep, thought-provoking book.  I enjoy reading James Patterson and I know I have contributed significantly to his personal financial well-being by owning all of his books.

Favorite movie: “To Catch a Thief,” the 1955 Hitchcock product with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.  It’s a mix of crime, mystery and romance wrapped in spectacular photography and beauty. Sorry, but they don’t make them like this anymore.

Favorite part of your job: Easy question - my students.  Working with them is like being on a constant drip feed of Red Bull energy drink! They are brilliant, challenging and have continually brought me great joy and happiness over the past 28 years here.

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