When I first started classes at UNC Charlotte exactly one decade ago, I was less than enthusiastic about my chances of gaining a real “college experience” and more focused on completing my education as quickly as possible.

In 2006-2007, UNC Charlotte was still very much a commuter school, with many students making the trek to the university on a daily basis. In the years since, I heard the school had developed quite a bit but I never made much of an effort to return.

This fall, however, things changed as my youngest brother, Christian, began his own studies at my alma mater. I decided to go visit him for a day on campus recently and learn more about just what has changed over the past 10 years.

Here are three changes that stood out:

Housing

I remember how limited the on-campus housing was when I was a UNCC student. Older “villas” dotted parts of the campus while some newer residences were just being completed, but they were located a significant walk away from most of the buildings. For many of us students, as a result, off-campus apartments like U-Walk , U-Club, and U-Need-To-Get-More-Creative-With-Names, became de-facto dormitories.

I’d like to say that these dorms were made for studying but I have lucid memories of what essentially became the Wild West every Friday night as hundreds of 18-21 year olds created swarmed the parking lot and pool.

My brother is fortunate enough to be in school at a time when on-campus housing has become much more appealing. Ss he showed me around a part of campus called SoVi, I began to wonder how much better I would have done in school had I been able to enjoy gourmet meals in settings straight out of an interior design magazine.

Recreation

During my very first week at UNCC I got to see a talent show at Belk Arena and even contemplated rushing a fraternity that had an old house located just off campus. These things were fleeting, however, and I found that for many students, UNCC was more for the educational experience than it was for the recreational one. Sure, I assume hanging out at the designated smoking stations was a real hootenanny, but really our options were limited.

For my brother, boredom on campus is simply not a problem. UNCC has a movie theater located inside a student union that looks like something out of every college movie ever made. He also told me about a ton of regularly planned activities going on all over campus at all times of day and night and I stopped listening at that point because I had spotted a salon in the student union and this was just too much to process.

Social life

Finally, an aspect of UNCC I was sure hadn’t changed much. While on-campus recreation and housing may have improved since I first enrolled in the school, I had a feeling the social aspects of college were at least traditional. Back in 2007, nights out around campus meant getting $2 wells at Boardwalk Billy’s or spending your financial aid refund trying to earn a commemorative plate at Flying Saucer.

If you wanted to stay on-campus, the basketball team was talented, if not consistent, and you’d be sure to spot a campus celebrity like the chancellor or that girl you were too scared to talk to in freshman orientation but contemplated friending on Facebook for several hours each day. Just the usual suspects.

These days, however, students do it just a little bit different. For one thing, there’s a football team now, and with that comes what has been described to me as a “fun” tailgating scene. I’m more than a little excited already.

Students these days have much easier transportation options for getting to other parts of the city — and will have even more when the light rail extension finally opens — those that do remain nearby go to Macado’s or a variety of countless new restaurants that have opened recently.

Looking back now, I shouldn’t be surprised by how much UNCC has grown in the past 10 years. The university, much like the city itself, is becoming a destination rather than a pit stop.

As the appeal of living in Charlotte continues to grow, so does the appeal of living on-campus at the city’s biggest college. I can’t wait to pick on my brother 10 years from now when he visits campus and kids are whizzing by on hover boards and sleeping in on-campus pods.

Photos: John D. Simmons/Charlotte Observer; Christian Duglosz; Diedra Laird

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