Paving the Way for Learning

Paving the Way for Learning

At Johnson C. Smith University near uptown Charlotte, crews are putting the finishing touches on a state-of-the-art science center. At Davidson College, a crane towers over the gaping hole that will become a new academic building. At Duke University, renovations are transforming a main dining hall.

Funding from The Duke Endowment has supported these and other efforts to create spaces that enhance the academic experience. Beyond bricks and mortar, the projects offer new opportunities for students and faculty and prepare campuses for the future.

“Since the 1990s and into the 21st century, there has been a dramatic return to understanding that buildings are more than just buildings,” says Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke University. “They still serve a core function, but they contribute in a much broader way to how we come together for learning and sharing ideas.”

Building Community

When James B. Duke wrote the Indenture of Trust that established The Duke Endowment in 1924, he included four schools – Davidson, Duke and Johnson C. Smith in North Carolina and Furman University in South Carolina – as beneficiaries.

Early grants focused on unrestricted operating support to keep the schools vibrant through the Depression and beyond. In the 1960s, special purpose grants funded new construction and building renovations until a recession in the 1970s. In the 1990s and 2000s, grants for the schools launched merit scholarship programs and need-based financial aid.

Today, the Endowment focuses on academic excellence, educational access and success, and campus and community engagement.

“Capital projects are part of that focus because of the role they can play in the pedagogical setting,” says Susan McConnell, director of the Endowment’s Higher Education program area. “With new spaces for building community and engagement, future generations of students will benefit.”

Recent grants include:

  • $35 million in 2011 to build the 62,000-square-foot Science Center at Johnson C. Smith, set to open this year. In an effort to prepare students for STEM-related fields, it will house centers for renewable energy, medical informatics, analytics and bioinformatics. The grant also funded renovations to a residence hall and scholarship support.
  • $45 million in 2012 to help Davidson tackle an ambitious plan to create an Academic Neighborhood at the heart of its campus. The decade-long project will restructure several existing buildings and create new spaces for collaboration and learning.
  • $80 million in 2011 for major work on West Union at Duke to create new student social and dining opportunities, and renovations to Page Auditorium, the university’s largest theater. The same grant also supported transforming Baldwin Auditorium into a state-of-the art concert venue.
  • $10 million in 2006-2007 supported a construction and renovation project at the Charles H. Townes Center for Science at Furman. The building, which includes a nuclear magnetic resonance lab and three optics labs, provides access to hands-on, interactive learning and cutting-edge research.

Different Angles

For each school, the goal is to bolster the unique community environment found at a residential college or university.

At Johnson C. Smith, for example, the Science Center project is part of a $150 million “Tomorrow is What We Make It” campaign to upgrade campus facilities and construct several new academic and student-centered buildings. With three public floors, the building will feature a common atrium space, classroom/administrative wings with teaching labs and faculty offices. A 250-seat tiered lecture hall and atrium will accommodate guest lecturers, conferences and other multi-purpose events for the campus and community. The design sets the stage for interaction among students, faculty and visitors, and interdisciplinary campus collaboration.

“One of our key campaign objectives is to provide a vibrant campus experience to our more than 1,600 students and 7,000 alumni,” says the university’s president, Dr. Ronald Carter.

At Davidson, the academic neighborhood will foster learning in and beyond the classroom. College leaders say the new project will create the liberal arts education that best serves a rapidly changing, interconnected world.

“The physical space coming out of the ground today is very different for Davidson,” says David Holthouser, the college’s director of facilities and engineering. “It is by design intended to foster teamwork, joint projects, and attacking things from different angles. Those are the trends we see in educating students today.”

At Duke, Moneta agrees. The new West Union will be a place where students, faculty and staff intersect, both in formal meetings and in unplanned encounters with opportunities for dialogue and discussion.

“There is a great need to educate people and to increase the overall percentage of young people who obtain degrees,” Moneta says. “That’s going to require mass educational techniques that include cyber education as part of the formula. But amid all that, there will always be a need for people to be educated in a much more intimate and engaging way. Residential-based colleges will be the place where that immersive and intimate engagement will take place.”

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Susan L. McConnell
Director of Higher Education


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