In keeping with the rest of this caffeinated city, UAA boasts 10 coffee spots on campus. Only one, though, is managed and staffed solely by students.
Pull into Union Station for a bright, fun and energetic start to your day (or mid-day break… or evening study session). Launched in 2013, Union Station has continued to expand in the Student Union, and the staff has big plans brewing. Why? Because they can. The other nine coffee sites are overseen by off-campus parent companies, meaning Union Station has a very different energy, full of personality and possibility.
“You can’t be creative in those other places the way we can be creative here,” said Morgan Ross, manager of Union Station. That creativity is on full display everywhere from the glassware (pick up a Union Station mason jar for discounts) to the menu (“People love banana lattes. You’d be very surprised,” Morgan noted). And if you’ve been seeing a lot more ads for Union Station lately, you have Morgan to thank. “We have spent hours—hours—making posters and walking up and down through the Spine posting them on every open wall,” she said. “We’re trying to advertise as much as possible because, if you don’t know we’re here, it’s kind of hidden.”
Removed from the main flow of traffic, Union Station is on the second floor of the Student Union, directly next door to the Gear Room and Information Desk. It’s not super visible, but they’re looking to change that, too, with a chalkboard-paint wall menu. Morgan is throwing attention at every element of the student coffee shop—even the angle of the ceiling track lights.
Movers and shakes
These changes are rooted in one main goal: to create a cozy campus space for students. “I wanted to make it a place I wanted to be, since I had to be there anyway,” she laughed. “I want this to be a place where people want to hang out.” To accomplish that goal, she’s focusing her attention beyond just the coffee counter.
Coffee shops around the world have three fixtures—drinks, art and music—and Union Station is nearing the trifecta. The adjacent lounge area now boasts student art, and any current UAA student is encouraged to submit their portfolio for consideration. And, just this summer, Morgan finally received the speakers she’s been dreaming of. The furniture, too, is up for meddling. Union Station staff adjusts the furniture to create the right atmosphere for various events, like Coffee with the Chancellor, gaming groups and craft fairs.
They’ve also adjusted the menu to capitalize on their location. Union Station is just down the Spine from campus weight rooms, and they’re aiming to net that post-workout crowd. Morgan is a gymnast and her assistant manager, Liam, sprints on the track team, so they added an entire smoothie menu with 100 percent fruit, plus powdered blend-ins like supergreen spirulina.
The rest of the student baristas get in on the fun with daily drink specials, based on the whims of whoever’s working. Each day, the unique signature drink (like, recently, a delicious iced coconut coffee) runs at a discount throughout the day. Each week, a loyal customer wins the right to choose the daily discounted special, too (and there are plenty of regulars; baristas know the orders of many frequent customers before they even speak it).
Connections over coffee
All these changes have only added to the Student Union. As the building’s name suggests, this space is for connecting students, and the coffee shop now plays a big part of that. Morgan says she can no longer study in the Union. “I have to go home or hide in the back of the library if I actually want to get work done because I know everyone in this building,” she noted (too many friends; it’s a good problem to have). “You’d think I would know a lot of people from class or gymnastics, but everyone I know from school I met here in the Union.”
Want to join the team? Union Station is hiring student baristas, regardless of experience, in the fall. Or you can drop by with your suggestions. The staff is obviously open to new ideas.
“I love the shop,” Morgan said, looking over the posters on the counter and stickers by the register. “I didn’t think I’d be the person that was so into this, but I am.
“And I don’t even like coffee! I drink tea,” she laughed.
Union Station is open 8 a.m.–3 p.m. weekdays this summer. During the school year, Union Station is open 7:30 a.m.–8 p.m.
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement