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Fostering Community, Collaboration, & Connections: The Co.Space Story

Very rarely in State College do you come across a space as innovative and unique as the co.space.

You name it, the co.space probably has it. Beehives in the basement? Check. A rock-climbing wall in the hallway? Check. A cave shower? Well, it has that, too.

More than that, though, the co.space has something invaluable, especially in times when social isolation can feel overwhelming.

The co.space is an off-campus living opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students as well as young professionals in State College. Most importantly, it offers its 20 residents an opportunity to connect and build lifelong relationships.

The house gives residents a chance to delve deeper into their passions while working together and living with like-minded people. Those living in the space work on projects related to sustainability, giving back, and engaging with the local area. They host house dinners twice a week to share ideas and frequently have guests join in for the meals (albeit virtually now).

Marriages, businesses, and all types of traveling adventures have sparked from the folks living inside. The network of co.space alums has helped each other get jobs, and inspired some to go into dream fields of work they otherwise never would have had the courage to pursue.

Co-founders Spud Marshall and Christian Baum came across the idea for the home while running New Leaf, a co-working space in downtown State College. It took a few years, a lot of elbow grease, and determination before the co.space was born. Eight years later, it’s more successful than ever.

“Once we got the property up and running, the first group of folks who lived in the house were very much our early adopters,” Marshall said. “We thought, ‘Let’s just go in and try to build the thing that we’ve all been talking about.’ Fast forward to now we’re in our eighth year, and we’ve got 150 to 200 people or so throughout this network, and people doing social impact work all over the world.”

Eliza Mull, one of many undergrads living at the home, came across the opportunity in a last-minute rush to find housing. Still, it remains one of the best decisions of her college career.

“I thought that it would be really nice to have a community during the pandemic and to live with a lot of people,” Mull said. “It’s much harder, or much more dangerous, to find community right now because everything is so virtual. But I get to live with these people who are so wonderful and who really push and challenge me in ways that I could have never expected.”

Mull has spent her time at Penn State either living on campus or abroad before getting sent home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She believes living at the co.space feels a lot more intentional and meaningful.

“The co.space feels so much more intentional than any place I’ve lived in the past. The people who live here want to be here,” Null said. “And they want to be a part of the community that is created here. People live here because they truly embrace the ideals and the goals of the co.space which is to create a community and to develop projects that will benefit the house, and the region as a whole.”

Anushka Thachil is a recent Penn State grad who lives and works remotely from the home while also serving as one of the house managers. When weighing her different living options, she said the co.space made the most sense and was the best fit for all her needs and wants.

The role of house manager has changed quite a bit during the pandemic. Typically, they’re in charge of ordering supplies, inviting guests into the homes, and running pitch meetings where residents propose house projects. Thachil and her co-manager Kelly Chege are still responsible for all of those things, in addition to keeping residents safe amidst the pandemic and finding virtual ways to engage with each other and the community.

Working from home, while also living with 19 other people and being a house manager, takes a bit of juggling on Thachil’s behalf. Still, she relishes in the benefits of such a unique living opportunity every day.

“I think for both of us [Thachil and Chege] because we have to work remotely and every productive thing we’re doing is from this desk in our room, it can be hard to let out that creativity and have those conversations you would be having if you were in the office,” Thachil said. “Getting that outlet through the co.space has really helped. I see this as just a really creative workspace.”

Through co.space, Marshall said he wanted to create a community where people can share passions and, more importantly, do something about them.

“It’s more than just the passive communities that you might find in a club, or some other type of organization you find on campus,” Marshall said. “We think about how we can bring people together that share a common desire to create change in the world and see something through to the other end.”

And now, despite being in the middle of the pandemic, the co.space is thriving, and its housemates are forming stronger bonds than ever before. A house is built on a solid foundation, and a strong bond between housemates in the co.space is built on open and strong communication.

“Because in every other aspect of life [during the pandemic] people have been socially disconnected, people were craving community in such a more authentic way than we’ve ever seen happen before,” Marshall said. “This past fall the house was one of my favorite places to watch because people were so committed to building a safe place for one another, and to supporting one another.”

Whether it manifests through creating an ant farm in the house, a podcast studio for residents, or spending time giving back to the homeless community in State College, the opportunities for co.spacers to be creative and give back are endless.

Spots in the home are still open for the next year, and if it wasn’t clear enough, people from all walks of life with all passions are encouraged to apply. Individual perspectives, interests, and passions are celebrated in the co.space and seen as a reason to bring people together — not divide them.

“Community and collaboration in the co.space mean coming to this space together with your individual mindset, perspective, and life experiences and then contributing to the betterment of this house and community,” Thachil said. “For residents, being able to take something meaningful away is equally important.”

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a junior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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