Students write feedback on easel boards about options for Earle Hall furniture.

Student Feedback Leads to Residence Hall Furniture Selection

When it came time to furnish new and renovated residence hall rooms at Penn State, Housing leaders sought feedback from an important group: students who will be using the furniture.

DCI Furniture, based out of Lisbon, New Hampshire, was selected as the furniture provider for the residence halls--the new Earle and Robinson halls as well as seven renovated residence halls at University Park. "We went through a comprehensive furniture selection process, and students played a major role," says Conal Carr, director of Housing Operations.

DCI, a family-owned company, is known for its high-quality, durable furniture for college residence halls and military dormitories. The oak furniture is "built to last a lifetime and to weather the heavy wear of life in a college residence hall," according to the DCI website.

The selection process began in October 2015, when a team comprised of staff and students began planning and creating a request for proposal (RFP) for vendors, focusing on areas such as craftsmanship and durability, flexibility, creativity, feel and aesthetics, and sustainability. The RFP was sent to 13 furniture companies, and each responded with three designs each.

"With 39 designs to review, we had our work cut out for us," says Carr. "By the fall of 2016 we had the designs narrowed down to six and we asked vendors to bring sample furniture sets to campus for our review."

Furniture designs were placed on display in Findlay-Johnston Commons, where students and staff could look at them 24/7. Students wrote on easels, indicating which furniture set was their favorite, what they liked and didn't like, and why. Focus groups for RAs, student government representatives, and first-year students provided additional feedback, and students and staff completed written surveys as well.

Six designs were narrowed down to four, which were placed in mock residence hall rooms. "This gave us a sense of how the pieces actually fit, felt, and looked in the room," says Carr. After the four final vendors submitted their final pricing and updated information, the selection committee evaluated each design according to price and the RFP factors. DCI had the highest score overall and was selected.

In June, Penn State representatives from Housing traveled to DCI to tour the sawmill and factory and observe the furniture manufacturing process. "We were impressed by the quality of the operation," Carr says. "DCI controls the product from the forest to the floor, so they can assure quality every step of the way."

"We are honored to have been selected by Penn State," says David Kobler, vice president of DCI. "It's clear the University places the highest importance on responsible purchasing, and this makes them an ideal partner. We look forward to building much success together."

The furniture will be delivered to residence halls in time for student arrival weekend, August 18-19. "We're excited to introduce the new furniture," Carr says. "We've always had student feedback, but this process took it up a notch. We got feedback from hundreds of students during the process." In September, when students are settled in, Housing will hold an open house to solicit more feedback--DCI will be invited to participate in the event.

In a separate selection process, DCI also won bids for new residence halls at Penn State Brandywine and Penn State Behrend. "This company has been well received by Penn State," says Carr, "and we hope our relationship will continue."