University donates study cubbies to support STL organizations

A large quantity of study cubicles were donated to local nonprofits

study pods
Workers set up study cubicles in September 2020 in the Sumers Welcome Center. Some of the cubicles are now being donated to area nonprofits. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

In 2020, the pandemic created an atmosphere of uncertainty and concern for members of the Washington University in St. Louis community. Faculty and staff had to think of innovative ways to facilitate learning while keeping students safe and physically distanced from one another.

Study cubbies were a clear solution. The reservable desks gave students safe spaces to connect with others online, complete remote learning or focus on homework. Before long, study cubbies could be found in classrooms and tents around the Danforth Campus. 

Initially, 1,176 study cubbies were ordered for use at the university. Once it became apparent that fewer were needed, the Resource Management office posted the extra cubbies on the internal WashU ReUse platform. The platform saw success, with 112 of the cubbies repurposed for use elsewhere on campus. However, some extra cubbies remained in storage.

The Office of Operations and Technology Transfer’s furniture and design group, led by Audrey Metz, and the Office of Government and Community Relations seized the opportunity to give back to St. Louis-area nonprofit organizations.

Several potential recipients were identified, and the university has so far donated a total of 370 cubbies, another example of putting in practice the university’s “In St. Louis, for St. Louis” initiative.

The University City School District was among the organizations to receive some of the cubbies.

“As a school system, ensuring the safety and well-being of our students and staff is a primary responsibility. Navigating COVID-19 reminded us of how vital these pieces are,” said Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, the district’s superintendent. “The study cubicles donated by Washington University provided a layer of safety needed during this very uncertain time. We are grateful to have support from WashU.”

The study cubbies have proven to be a valuable addition to learning spaces in the St. Louis region. Classrooms and libraries alike have benefitted from the university’s donations.

The University City Public Library is another recipient, making use of the cubbies at both its regular location, at 6701 Delmar, and its temporary quarters down the street while the main library undergoes renovations.

“We’re happy to have them and grateful to Washington University for the donation,” said Patrick Wall, the library’s director. “And we look forward to years of use for these cubicles by our patrons once we move back into the newly renovated library.”

In total, the university has donated to 12 organizations, including the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, which the university sponsors.

The university also practiced its commitment to sustainability in this project, from the cubbies’ design to the plan for reuse. The mobile study cubbies are polyester felt, a material made from recycled plastic bottles, attached to a small table.

“​​WashU remains dedicated to helping benefit the broader St. Louis community, as well as to generating awareness about the importance of sustainability,” said Dedric Carter, vice chancellor for innovation and chief commercialization officer. “This unique opportunity to both serve our community in an impactful way while also focusing on university sustainability initiatives is just one example of WashU’s ongoing commitment to being ‘in St. Louis, for St. Louis.’”

The team behind the donations is continuing the effort to serve the community. Recently, another large quantity of study cubbies were removed from campus spaces and soon will be ready for another round of donations.