A new place for undergraduate collaboration and comfort

Lauren Smith

Jan 31, 2024

Two students sitting at a table with laptops, looking at display screen on the wall next to them. More tables with students in the background.

The spring semester started with a new bright spot for chemical engineering students: the undergraduate flexible learning space opened in Doherty Hall.

The 2,500-square-foot space provides undergraduate students with a place to study, work on projects, collaborate, and relax when they need a break. An open floor plan and colorful walls and furniture help to create a vibrant and modern environment.

The lighting and color are some of what undergraduate student Gabe Mendez-Sanders likes best about the room. "Comfortable spaces like this make you excited and energized to collaborate," he says.

Faculty and staff worked together to build a holistic space that is both an educational workspace and a social and community space. The undergraduate flexible learning space can work just as well for an American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) chapter event as it can for group work, a recitation, or a digital poster session.

"It is a versatile space for student collaboration and innovation," says Chrysanthos Gounaris, professor of chemical engineering, who chaired the department's facilities, IT, and safety committee during early planning for the renovation.

When Anne Skaja Robinson, Trustee professor of chemical engineering, began her tenure as department head in fall 2018, she set modernizing spaces for undergraduates as a top priority. Having viewed spaces in other leading departments, Robinson emphasized the importance of shared working space, flexibility, and incorporating more light through windows.

The department is grateful that the renovation received strong support from many alumni donors. The project costs were also shared by the Dean's office and the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Located on the A-level of Doherty Hall, the undergraduate flexible learning space consists of a multifunction workspace, a lounge area, a meeting room, and a quiet study room with computers.

The computer workstations offer a performance boost beyond the power of personal laptops. The resources are available to all ChemE undergraduates and are especially useful to undergraduates performing computational research in the department.

In the multifunction workspace, pod-style furniture can be set up in different configurations. "Because the furniture can be easily rearranged, the room can serve multiple roles besides that of a student lounge, from hosting catered events to convening town halls to group work," says Gounaris.

State-of-the-art technology also gives students flexibility to present their ideas and better communicate. This is the first spot on campus to use Mersive Active Learning for an interactive purpose. It is a software-based video routing system for multi-screen displays.

Mersive allows multiple students to broadcast simultaneously from their personal devices to a single wall screen. This makes it easier for a group to look at a screen together, without passing laptops or looking over shoulders. A larger group of students can even broadcast to different wall screens from pod to pod throughout the room.

A separate meeting room in the multifunction workspace serves as a quiet, more private setting for teams and groups to collaborate. Equipped with an LCD screen and Zoom connection, it also offers a place within Doherty Hall for potential employers to conduct interviews with students.

 Lounge area with blue banquette, pink ottomans, tables, chairs, and wall art in blue, green, pink, and purple.

Source: Renaissance 3 Architects

The lounge area in the undergraduate flexible learning space.

There is also a lounge area, separated by a sliding glass door that can be fully open to the multifunction space for larger events. In the lounge, students can unwind together, taking time to eat lunch, relax between classes, or even use the HDMI connection to watch a favorite program on the large screen. It's also available to student groups hosting events.

"It's important that students have this kind of space in their home department, close to their classrooms and colleagues," says Kristyn Williams, director of finance and operations.

Undergraduate student Keenan Norton agrees. "The lectures for my three technical classes this semester are all in Doherty. It's really nice to be able to leave a lecture or lab and have a place to work right there." Norton also says that the renovation shows that people in the department are advocating for the things undergraduates want and need.

The Department of Chemical Engineering is grateful to all donors who contributed to the renovation of the undergraduate flexible learning space.