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 📸

In Defense of Career Services

Author note: Hello all, this is a repost of a blog that I wrote for the NASPA Graduate Associate Program (GAP). The original posting can be found here: https://www.naspa.org/constituent-groups/posts/in-defense-of-career-services

During my Slippery Rock University interview day in January 2016, I chatted with future cohort members about what experiences brought them into Student Affairs. After some informal polling, it seemed like residence life and orientation were the strongest pulls toward the field. These functional areas make sense as all campuses host Resident/Community Assistants and Orientation Peer Leaders, yet not all hire undergraduate career advisors. Though many career centers employ undergrads, not all host active, peer-driven career advising programs, programs like ones hosted at George Mason, Boston College, and my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon (CMU).

In my role as a Career Peer Mentor (CPM) at the CMU Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC), I always looked forward to the opportunity to work individually with a student on one of their career documents, usually a first year student with a mocked up resume made the day before. I learned that career, to someone on the outside, can seem like a passive transfer of a student through the meaning-making of academics to the soul-sucking real world. However, I know that thinking about oneself in a professional manner is a really personal, narrative-based experience that is difficult for a student to convince themselves to go through, adding to the need to demystify the career education. I have worked with students who have told me that “I’ve never done anything, I don’t have any skills,” which is heartbreaking to hear and even more heartbreaking to see that person with their head down, feeling defeated before they even start. To alleviate this negativity, I asked students to detail a volunteer/part-time experience, what they did, and what resulted. They detailed their role for a minute or so as I jotted down key words and impressive phrasing, adding a strong action verb to the start. “So, you said that you ‘Led a cabin of 20, 8-10 year old students and provided them an environment of physical and mental wellness?’” Their voice after my summary suggested confirmation of my interpretation but their face displayed amazement, amazement that they truly have made a difference and do have skills. I saw my role as a CPM as a translator, interpreting a student’s disappointment, role explanation, and job description into short action statements and actual action plans. After translating an experience of theirs, I asked them to do the same thing for the next experience listed, with my guided help: “Say out what you’ve done, pick apart the themes that come through, and whittle it down to a few bullet points.”

It’s obvious that Career Services/Education is misunderstood by students in general, as shown by this Inside Higher Ed article stating that “only 17 percent of those who graduated from 2010 to 2016 said they found their college career centers to be “very helpful,” with another 26 percent reporting that the career office was “helpful.” I agree with Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University, who in this article states that “one of the challenges is helping students understand that going to the career office is a multioccasion, multiyear experience, not just going ‘at least once.’ Sometimes students think they’ll go one time for 30 minutes and get everything they need, but it’s not that simple.” As CPMs, we address this issue by encouraging students to attend multiple CPM hall programs and teaching students how to request counseling appointments in the Career Center.

The Carnegie Mellon Career Peer Mentor logo. The logo is a read circle with the phrase "CPM career peer mentor" in white.
CMU Career Peer Mentor logo

Within the CPM residence hall mentor roles, we spent a lot of time building relationships with Residence Life and working with RA liaisons, attending extra hall events, adjusting our schedule for theirs, and making sure to update Housefellows/Resident Directors on our progress mid-semester. Even with these adjustments, we sometimes encountered negative feedback regarding the presence of CPMs in first-year halls from ResLife staff. Once, a staff member told my supervisor that our presence in the halls may cause students stress, pressuring them to have an internship by the second semester. I have come to understand her statement as both a misunderstanding of our role and the purpose of the program as well as a denial of the pressures students inherently face when attending a prestigious and expensive school well-known for the stress students undertake. We have found that peers offering career advice and addressing the professional needs of students literally where they are allows them to feel more comfortable in the process. Additionally, though we have specific workshop topics, all mentors worked with students where they were at, and addressed the needs they had at the time, preparing them to think about these topics before they got to their senior year and didn’t know what to do.

The image of a mission statement on sticky notes next to two markers. The sticky notes read "We strive to be active professional developmetn mentors connecting CPDC and the CMU community with a special focus on early caeer exploration."
CPM Mission Statement, developed with the help of Carnegie Leadership Consultants

I believe it is important to defend what you love and more importantly, let others know why you do. I hope that as I’ve described a couple of the myths related to Career Services and what I’ve gained from the excellent Career Staff at CMU, that others who may feel like it’s not something they’d like to do may give career a second chance. Every day I think to and use the skills that I gained as a CPM as a Student Affairs Graduate Student and within my graduate assistantship in Diversity and Inclusion. When I think to my future internship and job applications, I look with excitement and proactivity rather than fear. I’d even venture to say that my time at the Career Center, changed me very personally, as CliftonStrengths (formerly known as StrengthsQuest) has determined my top strength as ‘Futuristic.’ This position changed me as a person, secured my self-image as a leader, and continues to prepare me for the challenges I anticipate I’ll face as a professional. I thank the Career Center for what they taught me and hope to bring peer mentor programs to other career offices once I graduate.

Does your campus host a Career Peer Mentor-like program? If it does, what benefits and drawbacks have you seen? If not, how do you think a program like this could be implemented?

Header photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash 📸