The Atlas is a favorite campus gathering space developed and operated by the Associated Students of Walla Walla University (ASWWU). In 2009, when the ASWWU president at the time, Eric Wilkinson ’10, heard about student interest in creating a new campus gathering space, he conducted a poll to learn more about what they needed. The idea for The Atlas came about when a majority of students requested either a cafe or study space on campus.
The project manager for The Atlas, Will Fandrich ’13, said part of the impetus for the project was the desire for students to have a safe place to study that wouldn’t require a car to get to and that students could have an influence on creating and maintaining.
Wilkinson said, “We wanted to focus on the idea of something substantial that lasts over time and improves students’ experiences into the future.”
The vision for the new space was that it would serve as a space for studying, student events, and safe socialization. It also was founded to support returned student missionaries by providing a space for them to reconnect with campus after their time abroad. For this reason, project managers Fandrich and Danielle Diaz Korcek ’13 wanted the building to have a multicultural atmosphere.
Fandrich said, “I was studying Greek mythology in an honors class and stumbled upon the name, The Atlas.” He decided it perfectly encompassed the international vibe they wanted for the new space.
In spring 2009, the former offices of the School of Social Work and Sociology were chosen to be converted into the new student gathering space, and Fandrich and Diaz Korcek began forming plans for The Atlas. Major renovations were required to turn the 1935 craftsman style house into the open space it is today. ASWWU partnered with Tektoniks Corporation to design, construct, and decorate the space to accommodate various musical and spoken presentations, studying, small group meetings, student mission displays, and the sale of various beverages and snacks.
Alumnus Shawn McCrery att., president of Tektoniks, remembers testing the lighting and acoustics in the living room on the night of the grand opening. “I imagined special events with music and speaking where experiences and testimonies that glorified God would be heard and celebrated. I imagined relaxed and comfortable student interactions and study groups. I liked it even better than I expected to. After that, every time I heard that ‘the place was packed’ from my daughter, I had the same joy.”
The Atlas opened on Nov. 3, 2011. It continues to serve the WWU community in a variety of ways. Baristas provide a variety of hot and cold drinks. Students appreciate the cozy atmosphere for socializing and studying. There are large tables for student small groups, comfy couches for catching up with friends, and a long bar where students can study. On sunny days, the outdoor patio is often filled with students.
The Atlas is also a beloved location for faculty and staff. Some professors use the space as a classroom, and mentors often meet at The Atlas with their freshmen mentees. The Atlas also provides space for special events and fundraisers, such as open mic nights and the ASWWU Global Service Art Auction, which raises money for student-supported humanitarian and outreach programs.
The Atlas has become a central part of campus during the past 10 years and continues to serve the Walla Walla University community in many unexpected ways.
Click on the text boxes to read a few favorite memories of The Atlas and check out the timeline of how The Atlas came to be.
On the night before The Atlas opened, William Fandrich ’13, project manager for the launch, and a team of other students worked late into the night to add the final touches before The Atlas grand opening. Fandrich recalls, “After so much time and work, we just called it. It’s done!” To celebrate their hard work, Fandrich; Justin Davis '12, ASWWU financial vice president; Justin Birkenstock '13, first Atlas manager; Chelsea Hardesty '12, Atlas barista and decorator; and Nolan Kinne '12, ASWWU president, chose an inconspicuous place in The Atlas to sign their names. Over the years, many Atlas workers have left their mark on The Atlas as well.
Shawn McCrery att., president of Tektonics Corporation, helped significantly with the interior design of The Atlas. He recalls some of the special features: “There are many custom touches, such as wall panels upstairs that are made from Union-Bulletin printing materials from 1935, the year the house was first built. When you step into the house, you’ll notice latitude and longitude lines branching out across the wooden floor. The ceiling is even specially designed so that anyone speaking from the corner of the living room can be heard in every part of the space. I specifically remember right before the grand opening, testing the lighting design and acoustics in real life. The light patterns on the wall and ceiling at night created their own aesthetic.”
Charmaine Tan, senior business major and current manager, says that managing The Atlas is a big job and requires more than just business skills. “Problem-solving and decision making is the biggest thing I’ve learned,” she says. “There are a lot of variables to consider in any decision, and even more with the pandemic safety guidelines.” However, she says the adrenaline of working during rush time, and meeting and talking with lots of students makes it worth it. “It’s just a really fun job to serve people. I care a lot for The Atlas and want to see it succeed.”