Students at Steiner House enjoy communal dinners, cooked by one of their housemates.
Home away from home
Many international alumni look back fondly on Steiner House, which is celebrating 50 years of cooperative living on campus.
By Hannah Jackson ’24
Elliot Holzhauer ’21 stretches across the stove for spices while simultaneously stirring a large, bubbling pot. The smell of homemade pasta sauce fills the kitchen and drifts into the dining room, slowly attracting residents to the oval dinner table. He could be studying for a civil engineering exam or preparing elements of his master’s portfolio, but tonight he’s on cooking duty for 20 hungry graduate students.
Holzhauer is a resident of Steiner House, a cooperative housing community for Case Western Reserve graduate students. It has historically attracted a diverse, often international group of residents, many of them science and engineering majors. As they share meals, chores and bills, the house’s 20 residents are also sharing an historical moment.
Steiner House turned 50 years old in 2021, making it one of the oldest continuously operating cooperative housing communities on an American college campus. During the anniversary year, past residents returned to share dinner, stories and memories. The encounters helped today’s residents to not only learn about the history of their unusual home, but to better understand why it has continued to thrive on the CWRU campus.
Many of Steiner House’s residents, both past and present, fondly call the co-op their “home away from home,” as many of them have traveled across the world to pursue advanced degrees here.
Syeda Nur-E Saba, an aspiring physicist from Bangladesh, said Steiner House engenders a special connection that can’t be found just anywhere.
“It’s the same journey for international students, all living in one place,” she said. “It creates a sense of belonging.”
Adriana Velazquez Berumen, MS ’86, a top executive for the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, affectionately recalled her Steiner House days when she returned to campus in 2019 to keynote the Engineers Week Reception. She knew no one when she came to Cleveland from Mexico to study biomedical engineering, she said. At Steiner House, she found an oasis. She fondly recalled the shopping trips with her housemates and cooking one of her family’s recipes once every three weeks.
“You get to know people. You get to share,” she said. “Everyone’s a foreigner, so you don’t feel like a foreigner. It was a great place to land.”
Yufu Liao, a mechanical engineering major from Hunan, China, says the house’s “classic feel” fuels its charm.
Steiner House is a rambling old shingle-sided mansion with a big front porch looking out on Bellflower Road near the heart of campus. The interior of the home opens to a warmly lit entryway that leads into the dining area and the living room, both of which are covered in the flags of each resident’s nation. A vintage piano is covered with trinkets collected over the years by residents and board members.
The floors creak and the walls are cracked but the most prominent feature of the gathering space is a portrait painting of Oscar Steiner above the fireplace. He appears to fondly watch over students as they enjoy movie nights and birthday parties.
Steiner was a graduate student when he helped to establish the cooperate housing program during the Great Depression, when many students could not afford a place to live. Its first housing options were a variety of small, scattered residences before the co-op bought a house on Cornell Avenue, called Roosevelt House, which was incorporated into university housing in 1945. In 1971, the co-op swapped that building for the larger house at 11408 Bellflower. They named it Steiner House in honor of Oscar Steiner, who went on to become a Cleveland industrialist and philanthropist.
Steiner House is the only residence hall at CWRU operated by the Cleveland Student Housing Association, Inc. Room and board is about $545 a month and includes utilities and parking. New residents must be approved by the collective agreement of the current residents.
The house seeks residents who will add cultural or degree diversity, said co-op president, Maia Garbett, a Nashville native pursuing her master’s degree in finance at the Weatherhead School. She said an application is rarely rejected.
The strength of the connections and memories made at Steiner House can be traced back to its early foundation. Holzhauer, who hails from Seattle, noted that his favorite memory was the opportunity to speak with a house alumna from the 1940s, Janet Nakashima, and learn what had changed and what had lasted the test of time. He was astonished to learn she left Hawaii for Western Reserve the day World War II ended.
Overall, the house has changed little in its bones. The rooms are the same and so are some of the amenities, but the fresh, new perspectives of today’s STEM residents have given it a new life.
“You grow as a human being when you live in Steiner House,” said Syeda Nur-E Saba, who moved in two years ago. She noted that this growth is doubled, as both your perspectives and your tastes expand. One of her favorite parts of Steiner House life is the homemade meals that students take turns cooking using recipes from home.
“You enjoy food and recipes that you would never be able to get the tiny details from home without Steiner House,” she said.
Good food means a crowded table. The lively dinner conversations were unanimously voted as one of the highlights of the co-op experience.
“At the dinner table, we get to talk about everything under the sun,” observed Siddhesh Ambhire, a graduate student from Mumbai, India, who is pursuing a master’s degree in physics. Sitting around the long, wooden table in worn and mismatched chairs, the students talk about their science classes, highlights of the day, and favorite memories from back home.
In honor of the 50th anniversary, alumni were invited back to the house September 18 to share dinner and memories. The evening included a Zoom call with former resident Janet Nakashima, who is 100 years old and lives in Hawaii. Meanwhile, there are plans to promote the cross-cultural relationships the house has historically fostered. Some of the students will be celebrating the winter holidays together, sharing family traditions and favorite winter activities, to learn more about what the holidays mean to their friends’ families.
Yufu Liao, the engineering student from China, particularly wants to learn how to ice skate with his Steiner housemates.
Seated around the dinner table, passing plates and serving food to one another, it is apparent that each of Steiner House’s residents brings a unique perspective to the living space. But at the end of the day, they view themselves as one big family, living an exciting, unorthodox graduate experience that will be remembered for a lifetime.
To learn more about Steiner House, click HERE.
Steiner House residents past and present gathered for a group photo in September.
Row 1 (from left to right): Abhilash Challa, Board Member Michael Sabiers, Trang Manh; Row 2: Suebsarn Ruksakulpiwat, James Ho, Yufu Liao, Minzhi Ye, Kathryn Coburn; Row 3: Elliot Holzhauer; Row 4: Siddhesh Ambhire, Sophia Latz, Elena Chennoufi, Hongjin Hao, Maia Garbett; Row 5: Sam Amore, Justin Kim, Syeda Nur-E Saba, Board Member Henan Cano, Suman Bramhachary, Board Member Nishant Daga; Row 6: Kim McFarlin, Mrs. and Mr. George Burke
Not Pictured: Florence van Brug, Christian Mintah, Aanya Myrie-Silburn, Sharaar Jamil
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Elliot Holzhauer, an aspiring engineer, prepares dinner for 20 using his mother’s pasta recipe.
Maia Garbett and Kathryn Coburn, the president and vice president of Steiner House, like its comraderie and international flavor.
Former Steiner House resident Adriana Velazquez Berumen, MS’86, flew in from Geneva, Switzerland, to deliver the keynote address at the 2019 Engineers Week Reception
Steiner House on Bellflower Road