Saturday, May 25

Mariah Furtek: Dining Services must improve survey, expand as enrollment increases

Although The Study at Hedrick opened eariler this year, the new facility has done little to stem the ever-growing lines of students waiting to get food in dining halls across the Hill. (Alyssa Dorn/Daily Bruin staff)

Although The Study at Hedrick opened eariler this year, the new facility has done little to stem the ever-growing lines of students waiting to get food in dining halls across the Hill. (Alyssa Dorn/Daily Bruin staff)

If UCLA students manage to escape the “Freshman 15″ it won’t be because of a new workout regime – it’ll be because of the long lines they face to get food.

Scott Waugh, the executive vice chancellor and provost, has confirmed in an open letter UCLA’s commitment to enroll 1,500 additional undergraduates over the course of the next three years. This increase in students living on the Hill will put added strain on the already overtaxed dining infrastructure and aggravate current culinary concerns.

Our dining facilities will not be able to keep up with these proposed increases in student enrollment. Next year’s increase in student population will only exacerbate the long lines and significant wait times for food, which have not decreased despite the unveiling of The Study at Hedrick. Most pressing, students are unable to effectively communicate these problems to UCLA Dining Services.

Before considering more expansion, Dining Services should first address existing issues by better gauging student feedback through more accessible survey techniques. By developing a more comprehensive understanding of students’ dining habits and culinary preferences, Dining Services will be better prepared to handle the growing number of students.

Dining hall inefficiency has the greatest impact on students with the busiest schedules. Heerali Patel, a second-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student notes how long lines to get food make it more difficult for her to make the most of the limited free time she has between school and work.

[Related: The Study at Hedrick opens to students on the Hill]

The key to resolving these problems is a solid expansion plan built around students. Innovating the way Dining Services processes student feedback would encourage more students to participate in dining hall surveys and enable Dining Services to more accurately tailor future changes to students’ needs.

Charles Wilcots, the associate director of UCLA Dining Services, mentioned the quarterly survey as one of the key data points used when making decisions about changing dining infrastructure. The survey in question, “Rate the Hill,” covers all the amenities offered to students living on campus and is emailed to students at the end of each quarter.

Unfortunately, it is often disregarded by students due to its length and mind-bogglingly wide scope, an apathy compounded by more pressing concerns, like finals, weighing on students’ minds toward the end of the quarter. None of the interviewed students had ever completed such a survey. Given that most other Bruins are equally inundated by emails and assignments, it’s fair to assume that many other students also fail to complete this supposedly influential survey.

Even if Dining Services refuses to improve upon the current survey and chooses instead to send out clunky email surveys like the ones we used to forward as chain mail in middle school, it should consider forwarding the surveys more frequently over the course of the quarter to increase the response rate and develop a better picture of what students want out of their dining experiences.

Dining Services could also incorporate quick response codes into the current feedback system. These QR codes, posted on the doors to the dining halls, would feed into a Yelp-like rating mechanism. Dining Services could then compile and use the information, in addition to the current survey, to improve the participation rate in dining service feedback. Dining Services should also utilize a technology that monitors and analyzes in real time student dining habits on the Hill so as to determine the comparative popularity of dining locations. This would help Dining Services allocate resources for future construction in a way that best matches student demand.

Dining administrators should also be proactive in developing a new plan. Wilcots insists that UCLA is addressing the increase in dining hall demand through new construction, like that of The Study at Hedrick. Wilcots also points to preemptive measures that have already been taken.

“When we built De Neve, we built it to such a large size, anticipating a larger student body,” he said.

However, The Study at Hedrick is predominantly a study space and not a dining hall, offering snacks but not entire meals. In the first two weeks after its opening, The Study at Hedrick has not decreased the long wait times at the other dining halls.

Furthermore, we are already experiencing the “larger student body” that Wilcots claims De Neve was constructed to accommodate. Renovation and expansion are logistical and financial nightmares, but the masses must be fed and the ever-multiplying hordes of new students clearly won’t fit in existing dining infrastructure.

Though Dining Services may have its sights set on the future, the primitive means for amalgamating and analyzing student feedback via email survey limits the ability of Dining Services to comprehend and address the current needs of the UCLA community. These improvements in the feedback process will help Dining Services address current issues and better equip itself to deal with the larger challenges that expanded enrollment entail.

There’s nothing worse than trekking up to a dining hall with stomach rumbling with soft-serve anticipation, only to find oneself swallowed in lines akin to those at Target on Black Friday. Expansion is UCLA’s bread and butter, and it’s time to bring that mindset back up to the Hill.

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Opinion staff columnist

Furtek is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.

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