When UCI first opened its doors in 1965, a student center had yet to be built. Gateway Commons (now the Gateway Study Center) served as a central meeting area for the student body. It provided a snack bar and tables for socializing, eating and studying. In 1967 the Campus Union Planning Committee was formed to strategize the building of such a center. A central area where students could gather and socialize, participate in activities, and have offices and meeting rooms for groups was important to create a sense of community on a campus that already had a student population in the thousands.
The funding for such a center, however, was not so easily resolved. In 1970, 1972, 1973 and 1974, referendums approving the increase of student fees for the purpose of building a student center failed. Each time students voted to pass the referendum, but the total number of students who actually voted did not meet the minimum requirement of 40 percent of the total population. On the fifth try, in 1975, the referendum was finally passed, and on January 24, 1979, the groundbreaking ceremony was held.
The University Center, as it was first named, had its grand opening on January 12, 1981. The new student center included the campus bookstore, a quiet study room known as the "Z-Z-Z Club," the "Sidepocket" recreation room, the Backlot Restaurant, outdoor patio areas, the "Sound Connection" where students could listen to music, and meeting and conference rooms for student organizations. The University Center's debut week featured many celebratory events, including a classic car show, a celebrity look-alike contest and dance shows. It was a long time coming, but students were now finally able to enjoy their own social hot spot on campus.
With an expansion in 1989, which also included construction of the Cross Cultural Center, the University Center was renamed the Student Center. With another expansion slated to open in 2006, the Center is meeting the needs of a student body that is steadily growing every year. Today there are concerts held in the outside seating area, an information center with Internet-accessible computers, a pub for those particularly tough days, a food court featuring a variety of cuisines, and the many other services and facilities required by a hard-working and energetic student body.