Smarter classrooms, revamped dining service await students as summer draws to end

| August 16, 2012

Benedict 101 is the model for seven new "smart classrooms" being renovated for the fall.Carpenters, electricians and installers of all stripes have descended in force on Sweet Briar’s campus this summer as a number of classrooms and the Prothro serving area undergo makeovers.

Benedict 201, 301 and 308; Fletcher 301, 308 and 314; and Pannell 202 are being transformed into high-tech “smart classrooms” based on a pilot program initiated in 2010. The findings of that investigation inform the renovations currently under way in the classrooms.

The 2010 grant-funded experiment in Benedict 101 essentially allowed faculty and students to test-drive a model learning space to evaluate state-of-the-art instructional technology and furnishings. They kept track of features that enhanced the educational experience and those that did not. The plan is to replicate the ideal 21st-century classroom across campus.

Sweet Briar’s development department is keeping its end of the bargain by raising the money to pay for the initiative. Grants officer Sheila Alexander secured $110,000 from the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation and $200,000 from the Cabell Foundation, provided the College could match the grants. The combined amount will pay for 15 smart classrooms.

So far individual donors have responded, funding 11 of the 15 classrooms through matching gifts. Although development is still seeking commitments for the remaining four, it is anticipated that work on all 15 will be complete by fall 2013.

The initiative’s underlying philosophy recognizes that quality of learning is influenced and judged by the environment in which it occurs, says President Jo Ellen Parker.

“The classroom should support the energy, creativity and joy of teaching and learning,” she said. “Cleaner, fresher surfaces and colors, flexible and student-centered furnishings, and options that allow each group of students to use the space as organically as possible all help create that positive energy.”

The Prothro dining service area has a new look and feel, but many of the same friendly faces.The Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program is generating a similar energy, also thanks to the power of philanthropy. Using its endowed funding, the program’s design lab suite in Guion 127 will have new wheeled tables for flexible class configurations, new flooring and paint, better storage and dedicated space for student-faculty research, to name a few improvements. Engineering’s computer lab in Guion 08 also received a makeover, as did 014, which houses the circuits/mechatronics and materials labs.

“Students will have a better learning experience because of what we have done,” said engineering director Hank Yochum, adding, “Some things are simple but important.”

Meanwhile, ARAMARK has re-opened the Prothro servery with freshly painted walls, new counters and reconfigured line areas where diners make their meal selections, assemble salads and peruse desserts. The company will roll out other changes as students return for the start of the academic year.

New head chef Steven Jones is overseeing changes that include two action stations that will rotate options such as stir-fry or pasta dishes. Oh, and there will be soft-serve ice cream.

ARAMARK began providing catering and dining at Sweet Briar in the summer of 2011. The renovations are part of the company’s ongoing commitment to the College, said Scott Shank, vice president for business and finance.

“We’re grateful to ARAMARK for its continued investment in our campus in order to enhance the dining program for our students and all community members,” he said.

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