– by Tom Paradis, NAU Geography, Planning & Recreation
The past several months have seen some encouraging developments here at NAU, with respect to our efforts to find a space suitable for collaborative learning and student design projects. I suppose the primary lesson emerging from our experiences is the potential significance of “seed money” and leverage, whereby one small success can lead to others. The remainder of this post will provide an overview of this “snowball” effect that we have experienced in the past few months in our effort to secure a space for a new geodesign studio.
First, however, let’s take a look at the space. Our Department of Geography, Planning and Recreation landed what I call the “Cadillac” of rooms under consideration for a new studio, either within our building or nearby. In short, the room served as the former “ATT Lab” for the former College of Business before they moved into their new facility down the road seven years ago. The room is still labeled as such on the doorways. Then, the NAU Student Call Center moved in, from where eager student volunteers called potential alums to assist with NAU development efforts. Although our department is not seeing its own new building any time soon, we are indirectly benefitting from the campus building boom that continues at a record pace. As I write this, the Call Center is moving into its new facility on north campus, leaving us a pretty ragged, but exciting room (see photo above). The University Space Committee has since turned the room over to our department, with our planned opening date (knock on wood) of January 14, 2012, when the spring semester begins. It was a bit of a strange and satisfying feeling in August when we began to place Room 117 (the Studio) into our course scheduling matrix, which means that it is becoming the official classroom space for our GSP 405 capstone course, Senior Professional Studio. More courses and projects will be scheduled for that space in the future. Making the project more real (and not just a little intimidating for this new chair) was the fun had by colleagues yesterday while choosing a carpet design from swatches provided by NAU facilities. The room desperately needs new carpet and other upgrades, which will happen care of the dean’s generosity and support for the project.
How did we acquire the space and support for upgrades and furniture? One success has led to another, the proverbial “snowball” effect. A bit of good timing hasn’t hurt, either. Long story short, the process began last spring with the submission of a written proposal to the NAU Parent Leadership Council, which provides mini-grants for curricular projects that will benefit the students beyond what is normally supported by academic units. I called our dean (since departed from NAU) and secured his verbal support for submitting the proposal for some new computer equipment, for a then-imaginary studio room. He told me that, if we secured the grant, he would help us find some space.
Upon news of our success with obtaining the grant, it was time for the dean to make good on the promise. Let’s just say that it was not an easy process, and I sympathized with the dean who was already desperately looking for space for many other college needs. Having all but given up on options within our own building, he opened the door by suggesting a trade. Something akin to “Trading Spaces,” our department collaborated on a proposal to consolidate some office spaces that could be traded back to the college for use as new faculty offices. That second proposal, along with unanimous faculty support and some plans for room juggling, landed us the studio space by early summer.
Since that time, a lot of exciting planning and design work has ensued, providing fodder for future posts here. The latest success has been our Provost’s granting of funds to furnish the studio, the final piece of the equation for now. If we can get the carpet and walls renovated over the holidays as planned, we may just have students in there on January 14!
(Future posts will provide more information on the planning for the studio’s interior design, our valuable partnership with folks around campus to assist with inclusive and universal design strategies, and plans on how to manage the studio for classes and other projects. If you would like to share information about your own studio experiences that may apply to geodesign, please send them our way!)