A Study in How to Include Your Students in Selecting Furniture

In Blog, Student Engagement by Amos Kober

How do you select your residence hall furniture? Do you leave it up to just a few key people? Do you get input from a wide array of departments like residence life, facilities, housing, and the Dean’s office?

That’s pretty standard, and it makes sense for obvious reasons. But have you ever considered including your students in the selection process?

Why would you want to do that?

Including Students In Your Furniture Selection

For one thing, including your students in the purchasing process presents a significant learning opportunity. We’ve written all about that here.

And these days, a lot more schools are doing this very thing, because students care about how and where their housing money is spent. After all, it represents nearly 50% of their overall college budget.

As students become more socially conscious, they want their housing dollars to support sustainable American businesses with compelling stories.

In this post, I want to share an example from one of our partners, Penn State University. We were impressed with Penn State’s selection process because it’s so thorough and students are involved in nearly every step.

According to Penn State Director of Housing Operations Conal F. Carr,

“We work with a great group of student leaders and their insights and perspectives are instrumental to our success as an operation.”

In fact, Penn State is so rigorous, that even after the final furniture selection and installation, students are invited to provide their feedback after they’ve lived in the rooms and used the furniture for a few months.

The Best Example of Student Inclusion

Here is an abbreviated tour of Penn State’s residence hall furniture selection process as it relates to our recent partnership with them. It gives you an inside look at how deeply the students are involved in choosing their furniture.

October 2015 – Creating The RFPs

Penn State created a selection team comprised of staff from housing, residence life & purchasing from both University Park and the campuses as well as students from University Park. They began discussing their plan and the creation of an RFP (Request For Proposal) for vendors.

It took them 6 months to fully develop the RFP, which focused on the following areas.

March 2016 – Sending Invitations

The RFP was sent to 13 furniture companies; some they had worked with before, others were new to them. Though they only invited established suppliers they felt confident could meet all their requirements.

They received responses from all of them, with 3 designs each, so they received 39 designs to review. They also allowed each company to send up to three design options for the team to review.

April-September 2016 – First Stage of Selection

During this time, Penn State reviewed the RFPs and met multiple times as a team. It was a challenging process, as each design had its merits and could certainly meet their needs.

However, after reviewing 39 different designs they selected 6 to proceed to the next step. The 6 designs were from 5 different vendors and they asked them to build the furniture and bring a set to campus for review.

October 31-November 11, 2016 – Second Stage of Selection

The 6 furniture designs (from 5 companies) were placed on display in Findlay-Johnston Commons and were accessible to students and staff 24/7 during this time.

Penn State set up easels on site asking students the following questions, “Which furniture set is your favorite?” “What do you like?” and “What don’t you like?” and “Why?”. Each morning the notes from the previous day were pasted to the wall. These were all general comments.

In addition, on November 2, 3 & 7, they hosted focus groups for RAs, Student Government and first year students, collecting specific feedback. They had the opportunity to interact with the students directly, discuss the different designs and unique pieces, and the students completed a written survey. They did the same thing with staff though at different times.

After this process, 4 designs (4 vendors) were invited to the next phase.

December 2016-January 2017: Third Stage of Selection

The 4 designs that were selected were moved into mock rooms built by the contractor. This allowed Penn State to review how the pieces actually fit, felt, and looked in the room.

They once again solicited feedback from students and staff. They also made some small adjustments to the pieces based on the feedback they received.

February 2017: Final Stage of Selection

At this point, Penn State had the 4 remaining vendors submit their final pricing and updated RFP for the process. All of the areas noted in the RFP (above) and price were given a value and an overall numeric rating was produced. DCI had the highest score overall and was therefore selected.

June 19-20, 2017: DCI Site Visit

Penn State Housing representatives traveled to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and toured the DCI sawmill and factory to observe the manufacturing process in action. The factory visit was a meaningful experience for them on a few levels.

First, they saw the creation of their furniture in virtually every stage of production from rough logs and milling to finishing, assembly, and the final product.

Second, the Penn State team met and engaged with the community of local New Hampshire men and women who were making their furniture. The Penn State team could see first hand the positive impact of their investment on a small town American community and economy.

September 2017: Dessert Reception

Housing will host a dessert reception for residents in the newly furnished halls with representatives from Penn State, the design build team, and the furniture vendor to get direct feedback on the furniture.

I love this last step because Penn State is taking it one step further to see how they can continue to improve on their process and decisions.

Engaging in a process of continual improvement is what drives our company, and we look forward to taking part in this evolution with Penn State.

If you want to learn more, Penn State also wrote an article about how they included their students in choosing our sustainable furniture, and you can read that here.

(Photos via Flickr CC: Jon Dawsondaveynin)