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Building for Student Success

San Jose State University AVP Mary Jo Gorney-Moreno comments on the process of creating a high-tech student success center on campus. 

CT: How did the idea for an Academic Success Center come about, and how did you begin your planning?

Gorney-Moreno: The project actually began as a secondary effect of building a new library. San Jose State University built a new library with the city of San Jose. So, the campus conversation was about what to do with the building where the library had been previously. One part of the conversation was to engage a design from IDEO ( They did an independent study of the campus to find out what students, faculty, and staff thought about what other spaces were needed on campus (we had a beautiful new library). They did focus groups, fly-on-the-wall observations, and man-on-the-street interceptions with faculty, staff, and students, as well as complete surveys of students and staff. We used [the study results] as a way to make decisions about this campus.

Concurrently, the campus was moving toward building out additional smart classrooms. For the last two years as part of our strategic planning process, academic technology was to identify what was needed in classrooms on campus to make them into 21st century learning spaces. With that assignment, and the initial work that was done by IDEO, I started traveling around the country--the first place was at the Frye Institute at Emory University, where I visited Cox Center. That gave us a lot of information about formal and informal learning spaces that they had designed about three years previously. And we had time to work with Alan Cattier, the director of that center, to find out what really worked in that space. And he gave us a list of all the equipment he used at that time.

Then, being in the Bay Area we were really fortunate to have Wallenberg Hall at Stanford--and Bob Smith, and Dan Gilbert. We arranged three different tours there: We took a total of sixty people from our campus to look at the different learning spaces at Stanford. And we asked faculty and staff to fill out surveys of what they wanted here at San Jose State. And, whenever any of my team over that two-year designing period went to a conference, I asked them to visit the local universities. Digital Union at Ohio State is a famous one… and we went with the Syllabus conference to see UC Berkeley and UCLA… So, those were the primary spaces we were looking at and getting data about.

CT: What were some of the next steps, and could you give some examples of how you used your research in building the center? Or talk about any surprises?

Gorney-Moreno: We had our conceptual design from IDEO, and the campus hired SOM as our designer to interpret that conceptualization and make it reality. And that's where the rubber really hits the road. The requirements from faculty were: flexible, accessible, convenient. So, as an example of how we interpreted that, in the Incubator Classroom we have raised floors with a lot of network outlets and electrical outlets. Because even though the entire campus is wireless, some of the files students are passing back and forth are large, and we needed a lot of flexibility [for those connections]. The thing that surprised us is that with the raised floor you just pick up a carpet panel and a tile panel, and you can easily move your electricity around. And we've had to move the podium three times already--the research that demonstrated where faculty would want a podium was not borne out in where our faculty wanted it. It’s been just fascinating watching faculty using the room, and finding out where they want the controls, where students want chairs, tables--how they want to work. It was a real learning experience for us.

About the Author

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

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