The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place for the Nichols Academic Building on a sunny Friday afternoon, September 18th. But the handsome brick and newest addition to the school’s landscape has been thriving since the end of August, with a host of state-of-the-art classrooms, carefully designed study spaces, and a combined suite of student academic support services all in one location.
Students now gather in the building’s lobby amid furniture arrangements designed for group projects, reinforced by the occasional white board hanging in between the alternating blond and dark wood on the long wall opposite.
Natural light pours through a three-story atrium running the length of the new building. Steps away down a short corridor, students also can find the college registrar, academic advising, and learning services—offices previously spread around the Nichols campus for lack of space as the school expanded, but available now in a convenient constellation.
“All of the advisors are together now,” explains academic advisor Nora Cavic. “If one is away from her desk, another can handle student questions. There’s much better customer service that way.”
On the third floor students can find the new offices of many of their professors.
“This building has enabled so many things—for faculty to have individual offices, for student learning services to be consolidated, for the College to make strides towards actualizing our vision, and the list goes on,” notes Nichols President Susan West Engelkemeyer.
The crown jewels of the $10 million Academic Building are the oversize classrooms, which combine advanced technology and innovative instruction to maximize what students learn in their courses.
In Room 404, the building’s largest, Marketing Professor Len Harmon stands at a podium untraditionally set in the center of the room. From there he delivers occasional lectures.
More often Harmon makes the rounds of students working in teams of five or six at seven oblong tables around the room’s perimeter, with large HD screens on the wall at the end of each table. “We’ve flipped the classroom. I’m more of a facilitator,” Harmon says, noting that students come to class prepared to collaborate with their peers.
“It facilitates the learning process by having the class become more active,” Harmon explains. “The layout and the technology make this all possible.” Among the technological possibilities, he adds, students in each group can project relevant Web sites, videos, and information by simply pointing their smart phones at the screens.
“You can connect your mobile device to show what you’re researching or you can jointly create a PowerPoint presentation on the screen,” adds Nichols senior Frank Butler. “It’s more hands-on.”
The educational breakthroughs aren’t strictly high-tech. In other classrooms, the same oblong tables, increased space for professors to move around and facilitate student discussions and projects, and wraparound whiteboards for the results of those collaborations have made an immediate difference, says Human Resource Management Professor Libba Moore.
“The students love it. It brightens up their frame of mind,” Moore says of the new classroom arrangement.
Engelkemeyer offers her own checklist of what impresses her most about the new facility: “The classrooms that facilitate teamwork, the collaborative spaces throughout the building, the atrium, and the lights in the atrium that my daughter-in-law helped find after I said ‘I’m thinking about a number of small, sparkly lights that hang at all different lengths.’”