the exterior of The Commons student housing on Lancaster Avenue photographed at dawn



A place to live, learn, explore and thrive


Residential life at Villanova University has undergone a significant transformation since The Commons opened its doors in August 2019. Passersby might wonder what life is like inside the residence hall complex, Villanova’s newest living and learning community.

Offering Villanovans a place to gather, create special memories and nurture a sense of belonging, The Commons provides its residents a vibrant environment to live, study and eat in the company of friends. Here, we take a tour of some of the unique features The Commons has to offer, including in-building classrooms, two fitness centers and a fine-dining restaurant.

Room to Learn, Room to Grow

Man next to the display

The grades are in and The Commons is scoring high with both faculty and students for the variety and flexibility of its academic spaces. Nancy Kelley, PhD, Augustine and Culture Seminar (ACS), who taught one of the first courses offered in The Commons, calls it the ideal space for good teaching. “It’s clear somebody with a teaching background worked with the architects,” says Dr. Kelley. “Not only does it have all the bells and whistles, but the space works with you and encourages the very goals that you have for the class.”

Accessible to all members of the Villanova community, the six designated classrooms are outfitted with interactive whiteboards and lightweight tables and chairs to allow for flexible layouts so that the rooms can be easily reconfigured. In addition to the classrooms, there’s an array of central, easy-to-access community rooms—some are large social lounges with broad, arched windows and lots of soft seating; and others are smaller with single seats intended for quiet study. There are also outdoor courtyards with grass lawns and bench seating to encourage residents and visitors to linger.

As part of the project management team that oversaw the design and construction of The Commons, Assistant Vice President of Engineering and Construction Marilou Smith ’84 COE and Vice President for Facilities Management Robert Morro set out to create welcoming and accessible gathering places where Villanovans can foster community, whether it’s to work on a project, meet with a study group or make signs for a Wildcats game.

“Part of the residential experience is spontaneous interactions with other members of the community,” says Smith. “The Commons are meant to encourage that engagement.”

Not only does The Commons have all the bells and whistles, but the space works with you and encourages the very goals that you have for the class.

Nancy Kelly, PhD

Two students behind the table
People in the room

In addition to its six state-of-the-art classrooms, teaching and learning experiences happen outside The Commons as well. For example, rain gardens and underground cisterns are used by students and faculty from the College of Engineering to conduct research.

Find Your Fitness

Students in the spin class

For students, faculty and staff in search of a good sweat session, The Commons has got them covered—with two brand-new fitness centers that offer workouts for beginner and advanced levels. 

“Don’t be intimidated,” says Gina Palermo, coordinator of Fitness and Recreation. “If you hear someone grunting loudly while lifting 500 pounds, just remember that exercise doesn’t have to be that intense.”

To make everyone feel comfortable with the modern aerobic and functional training equipment available at McGuinn Hall, there’s a trained staff of students on hand to ensure guests are getting the most out of their workouts. Among the innovative equipment available to use: indoor turf, a hoist motion cage, heavy bags, an endless rope pull, Olympic lifting platforms and a power sled.

At nearby Canon Hall, the mood is high and the music is pumping as a rhythmic spin class is underway. In the new home to all group fitness classes at Villanova, students, faculty and staff have the option to register for daily Zumba, pilates, yoga, body toning and, for the first time, spin sessions.

The state-of-the-art spin studio features 25 bikes, and Canon Hall also boasts a group classroom that can accommodate up to 30 participants. Palermo stresses the value of group exercise for building a sense of community and keeping everyone on track with their fitness goals. “The participants enjoy coming back for more because our dedicated instructors keep them engaged and excited,” she says.

Meet Your Trainer

Name: Julia Revock ’22 VSB

Current Status:

Majoring in Marketing, with minors in Finance and Business Analytics. Has accepted a full-time role as a digital marketing analyst at the media company Red Ventures in Charlotte, N.C.

What class do you teach?

Rhythmic spin twice a week—it takes a typical spin class with hills and sprints but adds fun, energizing music to move to the beat of the song.

What are the benefits of spin?

It will build your endurance, stamina and muscles but is easy on the joints. It is something you can do for a lifetime. I have met 80-year-olds who still go to spin class.

Best fitness advice?

Know the difference between discipline and motivation. Motivation comes and goes—you won’t always feel like working out. Discipline is where routine thrives and true growth will occur.

What gets you pumped about spin?

Sometimes a song is so good and the whole class is on the right beat—I get chills because of how excited I get. It is such an amazing atmosphere that makes me feel great physically and mentally.

Good Eats: The Refectory

blackened Mahi Mahi with Papaya Salad, Jalapeño Emulsion and Coconut Curry on a blue plate

A fine dining experience without leaving campus is just one of many reasons to celebrate The Refectory, which reopened its doors in October under a new operating group. Located within The Commons at the corner of Lancaster and Ithan avenues, The Refectory fulfills a need that was identified by the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, ’75 CLAS, University President, who wanted a gathering spot for Villanovans that’s both memorable and enjoyable for students, alumni, faculty, staff, family and neighbors.

Bringing this vision to life is an impressive leadership team, which includes someone who has more than just a professional interest in the full-service, on-campus restaurant: Ken Kearns ’92 VSB studied Business Administration and Marketing at Villanova before going on to a successful career in commercial real estate and opening restaurants in nearby Wayne (118 North) and Ardmore (Ripplewood).

“We have a higher calling than your typical restaurant,” says Kearns. “I’m a second-generation Villanovan. My wife and I raised our children in this community. The Refectory is an extension of the close-knit Villanova family—it’s something special and unique that you don’t find at other colleges.”

The menu impresses with upscale riffs on comfort classics that range from homemade pastas to wood-fired flatbreads and raw and cooked seafood. There’s also a full bar serving beer, wine and craft cocktails with playful names like Master of Arts and Nova Punch. And save room for dessert because chef Biff Gottehrer’s indulgent takes on Little Debbie snack cakes will take you back to childhood with every mouthful.

Meet The Proprieter

Name: Ken Kearns ’92 VSB

Does it feel like a homecoming of sorts?

I’m very humbled and proud of it. Especially since my dad, Vincent E. Kearns, graduated in 1961, and my brother Daniel Kearns graduated in 1989 from Villanova. It has been a huge honor to be a part of this venture.

What is the vibe at The Refectory?

It’s a gathering place for all members of the community. There’s a palpable buzz and energy because it is on campus. The scene here on Fridays and Saturdays is really lively and fun. It’s sophisticated but not stuffy.

How are you measuring success?

I’ve been impressed with the consistency. The food quality has been off the charts. We’ve been getting tremendous reviews and customer feedback. Our reservations on weekends are hard to come by. We’re nearly sold out for graduation weekend.

What future plans do you have for The Refectory?

In the spring, we’re going to add additional outdoor seating and a private room with a fireplace. It will be called the Friar Room and it’s an opportunity for us to host more events, like wedding rehearsal dinners and University functions.

The Refectory takes its name from the term used to describe a dining room for communal meals at academic institutions and monasteries.

The Suite Life

student Kaleigh Brendle, who is visually impaired, smiles and stands holding her cane
Photo: Villanova University/Paul Crane

So what’s life like for students living in The Commons? Pretty sweet if you ask the more than 1,000 residents who call it their home away from home when classes are in session.

The 346 units that make up The Commons — a mix of apartments, suites and singles — are centrally located on campus and provide convenient access to laundry facilities, smart lockers for package deliveries and even an on-site coffee shop. They come fully furnished with all utilities included and the bright bonus of lots of natural light, thanks to more than 2,300 windows.

But more than that, the design of the six interlinked residence halls promotes strong connections between those who live there and visit. Here are two brief snapshots of living inside The Commons:

Liz Mullarkey ’22 VSB, a Marketing and Analytics major, moved into her apartment in The Commons in August 2021 with three roommates. With a full kitchen at her disposal, she decided it was the perfect opportunity to work on a new skill set: cooking, which she does most nights before hanging out with friends to binge reality TV or face off in another new pastime — chess.

Isabel Langas ’22 CLAS, a Sociology major who also moved into The Commons in the fall, notes her current living situation has had a positive impact on her time management. “It’s a lot easier to maintain balance here with different places to relax, socialize and work,” says Isabel. For her remote internship with the nonproft organization Inkululeko, she found the perfect ambiance in Holy Grounds at The Commons, just a two-minute walk away from her room. Now how’s that for a nice commute?

Design Inspiration

“Living away from home is a great time to begin flexing your design muscle,” says award-winning interior decorator Lauren Nolan-Sellers ‘00 CLAS, founder of Trust the Vision Decor. Here are five tips for decorating a space that is anything but common.

1. Make it personal.

Use items that remind you of home and show your personality. On-campus living spaces are often uniform, many with standard furnishings and layout. Display photos or memorabilia that bring you joy.

2. Maxmize space.

Storage is at a premium when you’re sharing space. One way to maximize function is to use multifunctional furniture, like lap desks, TV trays and under-the-bed wheeled storage.

3. Appeal to multiple senses.

When it comes to decorating, people pay attention to how things look. However, there’s more than meets the eye. Appeal to multiple senses by adding different textures, aromas, even music. Hence the term “feeling” at home.

4. Consider the lighting.

One of the most under-utilized aspects of design is lighting. It’s the easiest and most direct way to create ambiance. Have multiple light sources for tasks like reading and studying, but add accent lighting such as a lamp with multiple light settings to set the tone.

5. Go vertical.

One thing you’re guaranteed is wall space. Simple tip: Use it! Go vertical. Use non-permanent fasteners to display calendars, pictures, posters or tapestries, or even to string lights. Hooks are great for displaying hats or other wearable items to make your space functional, fun and feel more like you.

What’s Brewing?

a group of young people sitting in a coffee shop
Photo: Villanova University/Kielinski Photographers

With the opening in September of Holy Grounds’ newest location, residents of The Commons don’t have to go far for a well-brewed cup of joe. But even if you don’t live in one of the new apartment units on Lancaster Avenue, it’s well worth the trip to fuel your caffeine fix at Villanova University’s newest café on campus.

Adjacent to The Refectory, Holy Grounds at The Commons offers visitors a hip, funky spot to park your laptop, meet up with a group of friends or colleagues, and just chill. Coffee drinks—available iced or hot—are prepared with Peet’s beans. Other options include a variety of Mighty Leaf teas and bottled beverages, along with a selection of unique pastries (bagel sticks, anyone?), sandwiches, fruit and salads. Open from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Want to try the most popular drink on the menu at Holy Grounds? Ask for a Vanilla Cold Brew. Or go with the second choice, a Vanilla Latte with oat milk.

4 Things to Know About TechZone

two young men watching a friend playing a virtual reality video game
Photo: Villanova University/Paul Crane

More than just a place to go for solutions to printer issues or unexpected login failures, TechZone offers state-of-the-art technologies in a cool and inviting space that’s designed for comfort, creativity and collaboration. Here are four things you should know about The Commons TechZone.

1. Influenced by modern workspaces

With its communal workplaces and glassed-in meeting rooms with bright pops of color and contemporary accessories, the layout is inspired by open-floorplan office trends.

2. Book a room

Campus groups can book a tech-enabled huddle or conference room for a meeting, project work or studying. Among the visitors are Engineering undergrads who spend their Saturdays participating in a VR project with students from under-resourced Philadelphia-area high schools (part of the VESTED program).

3. “Help” is not a four-letter word

Working by the credo that there are no stupid questions, the TechZone’s 25 student consultants encourage techies of every level to get over their trepidation of the latest gadgets and devices, whether it’s for help using the 3D printer or exploring the versatility of the Microsoft Surface.

4. TechZone equals FunZone

Straddling the line between entertainment and education, many of the professional tools for use in the TechZone have the bonus of being fun. Students, faculty and staff are welcome to relax with friends and play video games or try out virtual reality headsets.

Meet a TechZone Whiz

Name: Mary Tella ’21 MS

Degree: Master of Science in Human Resource Development

Describe yourself in three words:

“Welcoming. Inquisitive. Outgoing.”

With great power comes...

“TechZone teaches students responsibility. It offers access to cutting-edge technologies and the chance to participate in a shared space.”

What is the most important part of your job?

“Helping people understand that technology isn’t scary. I used to be that person who was afraid to use tech in case I’d break it, but there is always someone here to walk you through it—it shouldn’t be daunting.”

Best tech advice?

“Keep liquids away from your computers!”

What's your next mission?

“This job has actually influenced me to work in IT and human resources and now I'm a learning and development coordinator for a national accounting and consulting firm.”

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