New building at Saint Leo opens doors to a world of possibilitiesTuesday, August 23rd, 2011
By B.C. Manion
As Saint Leo University students head to classes this week for the beginning of a new school year, the new building housing the Donald R. Tapia School of Business is the big news on campus.
The $12 million building, which exceeds 48,000 square feet, is the first new classroom building on the Saint Leo campus in decades.
It is designed to take full advantage of technological tools available to enhance teaching and learning, while at the same time it seeks to create an atmosphere that fosters collaboration among faculty and students.
University officials are jazzed.
“The opportunities really are limitless,” said Michael Nastanski, dean of the Donald R. Tapia School of Business. The dean said he tells faculty members that the university’s potential accomplishments “are only limited by our imagination and our willingness to commit to the outcome.”
On a basic level, the new structure provides space needed to accommodate burgeoning growth. It also brings everyone in the business school under the same roof.
The natural outcome of bringing students and faculty into the same building is the opportunity for more interactions. Taking that notion one step farther, the building has gathering spaces and breakout rooms designed to spur collaboration among students and between students and their teachers.
The idea is to encourage students to work in teams, chat about ideas that came up during class and confer with faculty members.
“The faculty are going to be much more closely intertwined with the students,” predicted Lynn Wilson, a professor of management, human resources and international business at the university.
He offers this example: The students are “in one of the breakout rooms working on a case and the instructor is (in an office) 40 feet away, 50 feet away, or maybe at worse – one floor up or down.”
Stepping down the hallway or riding an elevator up or down a floor is a whole lot easier than running across campus to talk to a professor who is three buildings away — especially when it’s raining, Wilson said.
“For the campus students, it’s going to create such an excitement,” said Phil Hatlem, an instructor in sport business. “Whether they’re business students or not, there’s a buzz on campus already.”
In addition to its spacious and attractive quarters, the new building has another big advantage: It is outfitted with cutting-edge technology.
The idea is to prepare students to be competitive in a global market place, Nastanski said.
“The 18-, 19- and 20-year-old coming in here is tech-savvy and totally connected to the Web. Now, we’re going to leverage that technology — what they’re comfortable with — to stimulate learning in the classroom. That is the ultimate goal,” Nastanski said.
The university also has been working with faculty members to help them take full advantage of the technology, said Claudia Ruiz, assistant director of instructional technology.
Some classrooms are equipped with four interactive screens, while others have two.
The interactive screens allow faculty members to involve students in various activities at the same time. For instance, some students can be reading a CNN report, while a small group is doing an exercise it will share with the class. At the same time, others can be putting together a spreadsheet or working on a particular formula.
Instead of standing behind a podium, the professor can move about the room, stopping to ask questions, field queries and provide direction.
“It’s about collaboration, interaction, engagement and active learning. That’s what we’re aiming for,” Ruiz said.
The teachers will be able to use different modes of instructional delivery and students will be able to engage in different learning styles.
The technology also will allow distance learners to see what’s happening on all of the interactive screens in the classroom and to hear what the professor is saying, Ruiz said. And, students at the Saint Leo campus will be able to listen to lectures offered by experts in different locales.
The changes in technology will give faculty members more tools, but the university recognizes that faculty members will need some time and professional training to make full use of the tools.
To that end, a team of professors will be helping their colleagues to see how the technology can be harnessed for their day-to-day work.
“We know that the unknown sometimes is threatening,” Ruiz said, but those concerns may be lessened when peers are learning from each other.
Students will be using tools of technology that are commonly used in workplaces, Ruiz said. The technical skills they develop should give them an edge over other job candidates when they graduate, she said.
The new facility also has enabled the university to add a computer science program, Nastanski said. Students will learn how to write software, debug systems and to prevent cyber crimes, among other things.
University officials also consider the new building a draw for leaders in business, industry and economic development.
The building can accommodate receptions, board meetings and conferences.
The university isn’t wasting any time reaching out to business leaders.
“The first day here, we had 12 presidents and vice presidents from major corporations in here talking to us about how to take what we’ve built and help industry,” Nastanski said.