Higher Education Environments: Placemaking at Carnegie Mellon University

Introduction to Placemaking

The environments in which we develop and learn are often more active factors in the way we develop and learn than we initially imagine. The university as a physical place of learning has a lot of merit yet is becoming more critiqued, especially as the growth of online learning inherently places pressures on the on-campus experience. Will we continue to need physical campuses when we can instead learn online? This question has been the spark of numerous debates, opinion pieces, and research proposals. What makes a physical university a place of learning? 

Within the higher education environments literature, the concept of placemaking helps answer the above question. “Placemaking is about the creation, transformation, maintenance, and renovation of places we inhabit (Schneekloth & Shibley, 1995).” These places often include the “buildings, landscapes, and circulation systems…” that we act upon and are acted upon daily. The question that guides this piece is how does Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, use placemaking to establish itself as a place of learning that aligns with the values it puts forth? As we dive into this question, we must first examine the vision and mission of this institution of learning.

Carnegie Mellon University Vision and Mission Statements

CMU Mission and Vision
Carnegie Mellon Vision and Mission Statements

The above vision and mission statements mainly focus on the following principles that CMU hopes that their education fosters in each student: transformation, research, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Environmentally, they claim to “[create] a collaborative environment open to the free exchange of ideas” where the above principles can flourish. Lastly, and still speaking to their physical environment, they hope to “[engage] with partners outside the traditional border of the university campus.” This may look like cross-university partnerships, partnerships with organizations and events such as the Tony Awards®, and even more locally, engaging with City of Pittsburgh. Though this project, I will next examine five pieces of evidence I collected where I found CMU to uphold and ignore aspects of placemaking as it relates to their vision and mission statements.

Evidence #1

Evidence1
Construction of the David A. Tepper Quadrangle or Tepper Quad

For the past few years and in alignment with their 2025 Strategic Plan ‘Ecology of Infrastructure’ section, Carnegie Mellon has been investing their resources into creating new learning and living centers on campus. The Tepper Quad, expected to be open by May 2018, will host “a cutting edge technology-enhanced learning center, a new home for CMU’s Tepper School of Business, a new visitor center, and collaboration, meeting, dining, and fitness spaces for use by the entire university community.” As a former undergraduate student from 2012-2016, CMU was consistently in a building and rebuilding period, closing off parts of campus for a short time to re-open with enhanced spaces and up-to-date technology.

Evidence #2

Evidence2
Morewood Gardens Makerspace A

Investing in campus spaces does not only mean building new ones. An important aspect of placemaking is the renovation and maintenance of spaces that are currently utilized. The introduction of the Makerspaces in the Morewood Gardens residence hall not only transforms these study spaces but also ties into Carnegie Mellon’s goal to promote innovation and collaborative problem-solving not only in the classroom. These 24/7 accessible spaces include power drills and soldering equipment, dress forms for making and displaying clothing, and a laser cutter.

Evidence #3 and Evidence #4

Evidence3
Cohon University Center Fitness Facilities
Evidence4
Tartan Collaborative Commons located on the 3rd floor of the Cohon University Center

The expansion of the Cohon University Center, completed in May 2016, included the incorporation of a new fitness facility on the first and second floors as well as a new study space, aptly named the Collaborative Commons, and a graduate student lounge on the third floor. By developing more spaces for both personal health and well-being and more study spaces, both requests by the larger student body, the university is not only saying that student voice matters in the creation and renovation of spaces, but also shows it.

Evidence #5

Evidence5
Carnegie Mellon ArtPark Lab

When walking past the ArtPark during this project (and for the thousandth time since I enrolled at CMU), I tried to remember the last time that it was used for a performance art piece as intended. Since my attendance at the institution, I believe I saw one demonstration hosted in this space. As further evidenced by the lack of updates on the ArtPark page on the CMU website (as of September 2017), a critical view of the lack of maintenance of this space can be seen as a lack of university importance for what this space means – the importance of public art on/near campus property. However, as a university well-known for their School of Drama and overarching College of Fine Arts, it’s more than likely that the ArtPark has dropped down the list of priorities when it comes to promoting artistic expression. In fact, The Frame Gallery on Margaret Morrison street has been steadily increasing in the number of shows they’ve hosted and attendance at these shows. The importance of public art and artistic expression is not unimportant, yet this function “outside the traditional border of the university campus” is does not seem to be well-attended right on the border of the university.

Conclusion

Overall, Carnegie Mellon’s focus on innovation, student spaces for personal health and well-being, and spaces for research are highly supported by the creation of new buildings, renovations of the centralized Cohon University Center, and the focus on making these updates with the student voices and needs in mind. There may be  more to be desired in landscapes such as the deserted ArtPark but I am hopeful through the 2025 Strategic Plan, specifically where the development of the ACTIVATE program seeks to “create spaces, structures, and resources for interdisciplinary research and teaching that lead to some form of social change and/or raise awareness on topics such as immigration, public health, sustainability… among others”  is detailed, that these renovations will continue to uphold and honor the vision and mission of this institution. With this said, I do believe that this physical university is working to maintain their functionalities, is aligning with their values and goals, and are successful in embedding these values onto their students and alumni.

Bibliography

Strange, C.C. & Banning, J.H. (2015). Designing for Learning: Creating campus environments for student success (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


This post is based on an assignment for the Spring 2017 section of ‘Higher Education Environments, Cultures, Students’ taught by Dr. Stacy A. Jacob at Slippery Rock University. She can be contacted via email at stacy.jacob@sru.edu or via Twitter @stacyajacob.

Header photo by Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash 📸

NASPA.edu: The 9,400 Square Foot Campus

This past spring as I was applying and interviewing for summer internships, I wanted to find a position that would allow me to distinguish myself as a professional with experiences both in and adjacent to the campus environment. As these interviews went from the first to second rounds, I realized that the pull of interning in a more generalist higher education space was where I needed to be to grow into a more dynamic professional. During this summer internship period in Washington, D.C. at the NASPA Central Office, gained a macro-level view of the function of student affairs and our role within higher education as a whole. I was also able to compare and contrast the values, environment, and structure of this association to the campuses that I’ve attended and worked at. Below are my observations on NASPA University!

NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education lol

Mission and Values

NASPA seeks “to be the principal source of leadership, scholarship, professional development, and advocacy for student affairs” by serving “a full range of professionals who provide programs, experiences, and services that cultivate student learning and success in concert with the mission of our colleges and universities.” NASPA indirectly touches the lives of the students that professionals work with daily, helping them gain skills and relevant, up-to-date knowledge on how to serve them. When thinking to the model of a university, I’d say that NASPA members are like the students at the university, gaining the practical knowledge needed to do the best work for the campus community. NASPA is an educational place, for graduate students, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers, and as we invest in professional development, we invest in all who we work with and serve+.

Locations and Spaces

NASPA’s “main campus” exists in the Central Office located in Washington, D.C. The association additionally has “branch campuses” in Denver where our BACCHUS Initiatives are housed as well as the multiple locations across the country where NASPA staff members work remotely. NASPA also extends their online ‘campus’ component to their constantly updated blog and constituent contributions and the many online tools that connect the team together. As NASPA continues to make its mark online, this placement mirrors the growing number of online learners who attend classes virtually.

Office Structure and Roles

The office structure and roles at NASPA often mirror those of on-campus Student Affairs offices. As illustrated on the NASPA Staff page, the organization is lead by a President and three Vice Presidents for the three overall organizational divisions at NASPA: Professional Development, Operations, and Research and Policy. Under these auspices are the directors for various departments, their assistant directors, often times a departmental assistant, and interns.

Member and Student Interaction

Throughout the year, NASPA hosts multiple work-study students from neighboring universities who aid in departmental work in accounting, membership, educational programs, and in research and policy. And of course, during the summer NASPA hosts graduate, undergraduate, and high school interns that work with full-time staff members to create and deliver well-rounded services to 16,000 members and counting. Though students aren’t always buzzing around NASPA’s office on the daily, our association still has direct connections with students through the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP), the Graduate Associate Program (GAP), and the New Professionals and Graduate Students Knowledge Community (NPGS KC). In addition, if you find yourself in the DC area during the summer, NASPA hosts an open house and rooftop reception!

For members, NASPA’s Constituent Groups (such as the Divisions, Regions & Areas, Knowledge Communities) serve like majors and ‘student’ organizations on a campus, bringing together people through content interests and identity affiliations. These co-curricular and often digital spaces allow us to transcend our physical campuses, if only for a little while, to gauge best practices for students and for ourselves.

CTAG2017

Staffing the joint-located Closing the Achievement Gap and Symposium on Financial Well-being conferences with NUFP Intern, Thalia

Having the privilege of serving as the 2017 NASPA Summer Graduate Intern allowed me to have a myriad of unique experiences, ones that I may not have had if I had interned on a campus. From staffing a 500 person joint-located conference, to planning and translating a national social media campaign centered around our field’s progression, many of these learning moments and opportunities for me to grow were unique to a higher education association. I challenge all incoming and current graduate students to think of the multiple spaces adjacent to the campus environment and to think how their degree can often translate far past a campus. As my supervisor Lucy explained in one of our last meetings, our degrees are often focused on the training and development of young people, skills which can easily be used on campus, in various non-profits, and even for-profits! Look for the spaces that excite you, that bring you toward new experiences, and that will challenge and push you. I did and I’m thankful for graduating from NASPA U!

Header photo by Susie Ho on Unsplash 📸