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U Dedicates First Housing for Honors Students

Centrally located on campus, the Donna Garff Marriott Residential Scholars Community offers great accessibility and stunning scenery in every direction.

Sept. 21, 2012 – The University of Utah today dedicated the Donna Garff Marriott Honors Residential Scholars Community.

The community – the newest solution to the U’s growing need for on-campus housing – provides apartment-style living to 309 honors students in all years of the program. Named for its major benefactor, officials aimed to create one of the most innovative and progressive collegiate housing complexes in the nation.

“These are not old fashion dorm rooms,” says Sylvia Torti, dean of the Honors College. “The buildings were designed to create a seamless living and learning environment under one roof. Student apartments, classrooms, faculty offices, a library, easy transportation access—even a market—all in one place draw together the traditionally segmented components of campus life. Importantly, the dynamic atmosphere created here could become the new model for an engaged student experience throughout the U.”

The complex is located on the eastern side of campus, at the hub of expanding activity on the U’s 1,500 acre campus. It is adjacent to the TRAX light rail station, and a short walk to the Honors Center in Ft. Douglas, the University Health Sciences Center, USTAR building, sports facilities, and the future Student Life Center.

The building also incorporates classroom and collaborative workspaces that host the honors learning model. That model is based on small, intensive courses, led by a team of distinguished faculty across disciplines, and often with involvement by non-academic experts from the local community. The Think Tank is one example, where 12 upperclassmen work for an academic year researching and designing solutions to real-world problems.

“Our students learn to become community problem solvers with real impact,” says Torti. “By merging infrastructure and programming, this new building intensifies that kind of learning.”

Features of the Living Spaces

The living quarters are 4- or 8-person apartments, which appeal to new students and particularly upperclassmen, who typically gravitate to apartment living as they get older.

“Research shows that students who live on campus stay engaged, do better academically and graduate earlier than those who live elsewhere,” says Torti. “This building makes it easy for students to engage our four-year program.”

Architecturally striking and clad in stone from a local quarry, the building was a design-build project of Salt Lake firms Gramoll Construction and Jacoby Architects. The design takes maximum benefit of the site with ample use of natural light and includes windows that open to take advantage of canyon breezes. Proximity to the TRAX line provides easy access to shopping and attractions.

“The seven-minute ride downtown and secure bike storage with bike-in bike-out access make having a car on this campus obsolete,” Torti notes.

The apartment wing is private, but the building entry and the amenities on the first floor are open to everyone on campus. The lobby is open and staffed by students 24 hours a day offering a market with groceries, snacks, prepared meals, a coffee shop and lounge areas for studying and continuing classroom conversations.

“The lobby and lounge areas are meant to be attractive and welcoming to all students,” says Torti. “At the new crossroads of campus, it is already a lively and well-used place.”

Features of the Learning Spaces

As important as the residence side of the house is the integration of the learning side. Classrooms, faculty and staff offices together occupy one wing off the lobby.  The Virginia and L.E. Simmons “Big Ideas” Innovation Center is a large open classroom planned for many uses. The windows have a special coating that turns them into writable white boards. Furniture can be arranged to suit the size and style of class. All classrooms have wireless computer access and can be subdivided for small group study; projection equipment is built in for meetings, demonstrations or even showing movies outside of class.

Living Green, Learning Green

The building currently meets LEED Gold certification and incorporates many green and sustainable features like occupancy sensors, LED and CFL lighting in common areas, Energy Star rated appliances, and separate chutes for recycling trash.

But in this community designed for teachable moments, even sustainability has been turned into a learning opportunity.

Jessica Batty—an honors student who is now working on an MBA and a master’s degree in architecture at the U—won a $70,000 grant from the U’s Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund.  The money was invested in a dashboard system to monitor and display electrical use by floor throughout the building, and to turn one of the apartments into a Green Demonstration Room. That apartment showcases the use of sustainable finishes, such as cabinets, carpet and countertops made of “rapidly renewable” materials, formaldehyde-free furniture and zero VOC (low odor) paints. The demonstration room will be occupied, but is available for students and faculty to learn about the green products’ function and wear.

“Excellence was built into the structure because excellence is what we aim to produce at the U,” concludes Torti. “Honors is a microcosm of education here, and the building will just attract more of it.”


The Honors College at the University of Utah promotes an enriched academic environment for talented and highly motivated students. The College is a community of excellence that fosters values of social responsibility, inclusiveness and academic quality.

Honors students, faculty and community members share a love of learning, the desire for excellence, and an engagement in the world of ideas. More about the Honors College including how to apply is available online at


The University of Utah, located in Salt Lake City in the foothills of the Wasatch Range, is the flagship institution of higher learning in Utah. Founded in 1850, it serves more than 31,000 students from across the United States and the world. With more than 72 major subjects at the undergraduate level and more than 90 major fields of study at the graduate level, including law and medicine, the university prepares students to live and compete in the global workplace. Learn more about all the U has to offer online at