Case Study: Penn State University

In Blog, Student Engagement by Morgan Dix

Summary: Penn State residence halls use rigorous standards to help them assess the best value when they select their residence furniture. Students play a key role in helping determine the final selection through Penn’s innovative Best Value Process (BVP).

Project Name: Penn State Residence Halls Best Value Process

Location: State College, Pennsylvania

Size: 780 Sets

Building Type: Residence Halls

Project Team: Penn State, DCI

Product List: Adjustable Height Beds; Two and One-Drawer Stackable Under-Bed Storage Units; Study Desks; Two-Door and One-Door Wardrobes on casters; Desktop Bookcases; Bed End Shelves (FSC-Controlled Maple and Red Oak)

Penn State University

Penn State University is perhaps best known for its athletic programs, but it is also one of this country’s most prestigious Public Ivies. It was founded in 1855 as a public land-grant college in Pennsylvania with an intensive focus on research.

With more than 46,800 undergraduate students enrolled annually at its University Park main campus in State College township, Penn State is one of the largest universities in the United States. When you include students from it’s 24 additional campuses across the state, Penn State boasts a staggering annual enrollment of 97,500 students.

Not surprisingly, Penn State is the largest University in Pennsylvania. In 2003 it distinguished itself as having the second largest impact on the state economy than any other organization.

From it’s humble beginnings as The Farmer’s High School of Pennsylvania, the University has evolved into a global powerhouse of teaching, research, and public service. Today, Penn State offers over 160 majors with an endowment of $3.6B while spending over $800M a year on scientific research.

Backstory

In 2015, Penn State asked DCI and 12 other manufactures to generate proposals for a new residence hall furniture standard. We were provided room sizes and a few high-level project goals like sustainability, domestic manufacturing, and long product life cycle expectation, but the rest was left to us.

Initially we proposed 3 designs which were then narrowed down to one. We produced a full sample set of those items which the University displayed in a public area alongside samples from 5 competitors.

For several weeks the University encouraged students and faculty to critique the samples and list what they liked and didn’t like on large display boards.

After all was said and done, and after going through Penn State residence halls innovative and intensive Best Value Process (BVP), we were selected as the ideal partner for the University. As part of this partnership, we have furnished 3 residence halls in State College.

In addition, DCI was honored to receive orders for additional requirements on the Brandywine, Allegheny, and Behrend campuses.

One thing that stood out about our work with Penn State residence halls was their rigorous attention to detail. Over 40 years, we’ve worked with countless schools, but we’d never seen the upper administration take such interest in one of our projects.

For example, the Director of Housing for all of Penn State was closely involved in our work, regularly touring the building and looking at how the room setups could be optimized while changing the layout to maximize convenience and functionality for the students.

If there was a lounge that needed to be setup as a triple, they helped with input and oversight.

Penn State Residence Halls: Process & Approach

Penn State residence halls Best Value Process (BVP)

The most impressive dimension of our work with Penn State residence halls is their Best Value Selection process. This is the exhaustive procedure they use to evaluate the different companies who are bidding to build and install furniture in their residence halls.

In the beginning, we were invited along with 12 other companies to submit RFPs. That first step initiated a one and a half year selection process that engaged a host of stakeholders including the Offices of Housing, Residence Life and Purchasing from both University Park and the campuses as well as students from University Park.

And that’s another aspect of our work with Penn State residence halls that stood out. The students played an in-depth role in helping to select the furniture. If you want to learn more about the value of including your students in the furniture selection process, we wrote all about it here.

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

A Synopsis of Penn State Residence Halls BVP:

Creating the RFP based on the following selection criteria: >Construction/Craftsmanship/Durability >Flexibility >Creativity/Innovation >Feel/Aesthetics >Sustainability/Sustainable Practices

Sending Invitations: 13 furniture companies soliciting 3 designs each

The First Stage of selection: narrowed down 39 designs to 6 designs for live on-campus review.

The Second Stage of selection: the staff and students tested the furniture and provided written and direct feedback and filled out surveys narrowing it down to 4 designs.

The Third Stage of Selection: the designs were reviewed in mock rooms for look, fit, and feel and students and staff offered another round of feedback

The Final Stage of Selection: the remaining vendors submitted pricing and updated RFPs. They gave all of the areas noted in the RFP (above and including price) a value. The Penn State residence halls team produced an overall numeric rating for each vendor. DCI received the highest overall score.

penn state residence halls housing team visiting DCI factory

DCI Site Visit

The Penn State residence halls team decided to visit our facility well after they awarded us the contract. The trip was an opportunity to collect information and share their responsible purchasing practices with their students.

They toured the DCI sawmill and factory which gave them a detailed view into our manufacturing process from start to finish. The Penn State team saw the creation of their furniture in virtually every stage of production from rough logs and milling to finishing, assembly, and the final product.

They were also impressed with the zero waste facility and total absence of fossil fuels. They even wrote about the project on their website, saying:

We were impressed by the quality of the operation. DCI controls the product from the forest to the floor, so they can assure quality every step of the way. This company has been well received by Penn State, and we hope our relationship will continue.” Conal Carr, director of Housing Operations.

During this whole process, they 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.

Finally they met with a Forester who explained Vermont and New Hampshire’s present use taxation program and its impact on sustainable forestry practices. To be eligible for this program landowners must prepare a timber management plan which includes responsible forestry, harvesting and wildlife practices.

As Penn State saw firsthand, sustainable timber harvesting plays a significant role in the rural economies of VT and NH.

Dessert Reception: The Housing Office hosts a 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.

Guaranteeing Value

How do you assess the value of a product? How do you measure the success of a project? These questions go together. Penn State applies rigorous standards to help them assess the best value when they select their furniture.

In the process, everyone learns from the experience. And by undertaking such a process, you’re much more likely to be happy with the final product and consider it a success.

Currently we are winding down our 2017 work with Penn State residence halls. But what happened in this partnership transcended the mere exchange of money for commodities. Yes, students at Penn State now enjoy beautiful hardwood furniture. And DCI crafted it sustainably here in the Northeast United States.

But more importantly, Penn State enlarged their own story to include the hard work of local men and women from the White Mountains of New Hampshire who make the most sustainable furniture in the residence hall marketplace. DCI plays a significant roll in the local economy and now the relationship with Penn State is a part of that story.

To put things into prospective, while Penn State was touring our factory in Lisbon, NH, the Director of Housing remarked that “Penn State had more people in one of its quads than the whole population of the town of Lisbon.”

The team from Penn State were as proud of their furniture as we are, and they are telling the story, letting their students know that their housing dollars are supporting the hardworking people of Lisbon, NH.

(Photos via Flickr CC: daveynin)