The Jack H. Overman Student Center sits in the heart of Pittsburg State’s campus, acting as a gathering space for students over decades. Since its opening in 1951, the Student Center has evolved in numerous ways.
Steve Cox, curator of special collections and university archives, shared his knowledge about the beginning of the Student Center.
“The Student Center was built in 1951 and the university was not quite 50 years old at the time, but you’d find a Student Center or a University Center … on most colleges and universities on the campus for places where students can hang out and relax a little bit,” Cox said. “They usually house the bookstores, some dining venues, meeting rooms, a lot of university clubs will meet there, so there’s definitely a need for the Student Center on the campus. The planning for this actually began in the 1940s, they raised tuition a little bit, and they actually got the faculty at that time to agree to donate part of their salaries to build it. So the first building, the first true Student Center, was built and opened in 1951.”
Cox said the Overman Student Center was most likely built due to the growing population and enrollment, since this was just after World War II. Jeff Steinmiller, Student Center director, said that adding the building was in interest of the students.
“Well, the students at the time, my understanding, felt they needed a place to be able to call their own,” Steinmiller said. “Student Centers in general are viewed as the living room of the campus and we were lacking that. And so the students petitioned and got approval to have the building built. In fact … when Jack Overman was a student there was talk about building a Student Center back in the ‘30s, and he ran as student body president with the idea of pushing for a Student Center.”
The Overman Student Center was named in honor of Jack Overman, PSU alumnus and first Student Center director, who impacted Pitt State in numerous ways. His legend lives on through the Student Center, which has bore his name since 1985.
“Jack Overman was appointed the first director of the Student Center when it opened in 1951,” Cox said. “He had graduated in the early 1940s after being a student here, and so from 1951 until his retirement around 1985 he was the director of the Student Center. So when he retired, to honor his service to university both as a student and as the director of the Student Center, they named it after him.”
Overman’s influence on Pittsburg and the university started before he became a Pitt State student, as he was a Pittsburg native. He went on to become a PSU yell leader, class president, Student Center Director, and later received multiple different awards, such as the Meritorious Achievement Award and more.
“… Because he gave his heart and soul to this building there was a push from the students as well as the campus as a whole to petition to the Board of Regents to name the building after him,” Steinmiller said. “And so, you know, it’s his pride and joy. In fact, Jack actually has endowed a scholarship that is given out to student employees and members of the Gorillas Activities Board every year; we give out five or six $1,000 scholarships for those people who are involved in the building. So his heart and soul was part of the Student Center.”
Overtime, the Student Center has seen various updates, centering on modernization.
“Well, they’ve had several renovations,” Cox said. “I believe the first renovation was in the early 1960s when it was just a little over 10 years old and they added more space to it, and then in the mid-80s they renovated it, added more space to it, and then the last renovation was just four years ago in … 2015 where they renovated some rooms, really kind of modernized things, and added even more space. So now it’s over 100,000 square feet.”
Cox said that before the Student Center was built, students most likely gathered in the library or in restaurants near campus. Though, also before the Student Center’s addition, a different building sat in its place.
“One curious thing is that … in 1951 there was a building that was already on the site where the current Student Center is, and instead of tearing it down they just built around it and over it, and it was the original geology and mining building on this campus,” Cox said. “And I’ve never seen it, but I’ve been told you can still see parts of the old building inside the Student Center.”
Whether using the Student Center as a space to meet with a club, relax between classes, or an on-campus job, its various amenities have changed over time. Overman and current Student Center staff hope the building meets all the students’ needs.
“The Student Center, we view, as part of the co-curricular education, so education outside of the classroom,” Steinmiller said. “So whether you’re a student employee in the building, a student manager operating the building, a member of a student organization within the building or outside the building, we facilitate those efforts; so what you learn outside the classroom is just as integral to what you learn in the classroom. So our number one goal in the Student Center is the development of the student.”