FEATURE — Winter 2004

Lopata House (above) and Village House make up "the Village." On the northwest corner of the Hilltop Campus, the Village offers students the chance to complement their classroom experience with a living environment that enhances and deepens that education.

Transforming the Educational Experience

A major Campaign goal was to create the highest quality living and learning environments for students across campus—ones that foster interaction, relationship building, and the sharing of knowledge, with faculty and each other.

by David Fiedler

Margaret Hoogland, Arts & Sciences Class of '05, a two-year resident of the Village, lives with the group Deutsche Abenteuer, or "German Adventure." Events put on by her group feature a particularly hard-to-resist aspect of German culture: German chocolate, a plentiful and constant presence that ensures strong attendance at events like Oktoberfest and screenings of German films.

"As a member of Deutsche Abenteuer, I get to experience German culture firsthand in a fascinating way," says Hoogland. "I became a German major in large part because of these wonderful experiences and because of the strong support from other group members."

In addition to Deutsche Abenteuer, the Village hosts other groups with similar interests, including Spanish House; Connections, a community of U.S. and international students who promote the unification of students, faculty, and staff with diverse world views; and Alif Laam Meem. These groups offer students the chance to complement their classroom experience with a living environment that enhances and deepens that education. Each works with a faculty adviser to plan activities and programs, and collaboration among groups is encouraged. Located on the northwest corner of the Hilltop Campus, the Village comprises Lopata House, named for longtime University supporters Lucy and the late Stanley Lopata, and Village House.

The Lopata House, named for benefactors Lucy and the late Stanley Lopata, was dedicated on October 20, 2001; helping to cut the ribbon were, from left, then-senior Benjamin Finder; James W. Davis, a Village faculty associate; Lucy Lopata; and Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.

Ian Bushner, Arts & Sciences Class of '06, lives with the group Alif Laam Meem, which seeks to introduce students of all backgrounds to Islamic culture and lifestyles. "The best part is the sense of community and brotherhood we have," says Bushner, who hails from Kansas City. "We all share the same values, and living together offers us reinforcement and encouragement."

One event the group puts on is a dinner program with Spanish House. "After the meal," adds Bushner, "Professor Martin Jacobs of the Department of Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Studies (in Arts & Sciences) offers a talk on the influence and depth of the Muslim community in Spain, a topic of interest to both groups."

James Davis, professor of political science, is a faculty associate in the Village. In addition to advising students hoping to form "special interest" communities, he serves as one of the Village's enthusiastic promoters.

"This is a very prominent example of Washington University's commitment to providing a high-quality undergraduate education," says Davis. "By offering a chance for students to live with others who share their interests in a first-rate physical facility, with University staff and budgetary support to help plan activities tied to their interests, [the University] practically shouts, 'Look at what we're doing!' to expand opportunities to learn outside of the classroom."

The extensive facilities and staff support at the Village exemplify the University's commitment to creating an environment that affects and transforms the educational experiences of students like Hoogland and Bushner. The Village offers a unique combination of classrooms, living quarters, and other specialty and multi-use spaces, including a black-box theater, and study and performance rooms.

"A total campus education depends substantially on spaces coming together in a way that draws on a number of qualities. You have to have thoughtful, caring design, with a sensitivity to location and relationship to other spaces," says James E. McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean, College of Arts & Sciences. "We want students to learn in everything they do, in the people that they meet and by participation in various activities. Living together in a place like the Village reinforces and enriches the formal component of the educational process."

The student common rooms found on each floor of Lopata House are but one example of this, says Justin X. Carroll, assistant vice chancellor for students and dean of student affairs. Carroll points out how their built-in flexibility allows their function to change at different points in the academic cycle.

On the Medical Campus, one example of the University's commitment to creating a world-class learning environment is the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center (drawing above). (Below) Construction is under way, with completion slated for summer 2005.

"Sometimes they get used for small group discussion, sometimes for study, sometimes simply for social gatherings," says Carroll. "The lower-level seminar rooms, in particular, have allowed us to be more strategic in our academic support groups, to offer study sessions and tutorials right where students live. It becomes part of the fabric of the community."

At the center of the Medical Campus

On the campus of the School of Medicine, one example of Washington University's commitment to creating world-class spaces for learning is found in the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center, named for benefactors Betty and David C. Farrell, retired chairman and CEO of The May Department Stores Co. With completion expected next summer, the six-story structure will serve as the "hearth" for learning at the Medical Campus. Spaces designed specifically to foster discussion and the sharing of knowledge between students and faculty abound throughout, whether found in one of the multi-use classrooms wired for the latest technology or in a quiet nook offering a comfortable chair and conversation over a cup of coffee in the soaring six-story atrium.

"Much of the excitement in medical science is found in interdisciplinary and collaborative work," says Larry J. Shapiro, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics. "Through its design, the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center, truly a state-of-the-art educational facility, tries to encourage that type of interaction. Because of its position at the center of campus, students from all programs will spend a lot of time there. It is laid out in such a way as to bring people face-to-face—to intentionally foster discussion and informal interaction between faculty and students of all backgrounds, levels, and disciplines."

Much of the teaching space features mobile furniture and shared walls, allowing rooms to be configured to best suit a particular task. The entire sixth floor will remain unfinished, reserved for use at some future date when needs are more clearly known and new educational technologies offer possibilities as yet unimagined.

David C. and Betty Farrell gave the naming gift for the new facility, where spaces have been designed specifically to foster discussion and sharing of knowledge between students and faculty.

"We have a limited ability to see into the future," says Shapiro, himself a 1968 graduate of Arts & Sciences and 1971 graduate of the medical school. "When I was here as a student, we couldn't have imagined the stunning transformations in the practice of medicine and in the technology now available to us. This flexibility allows us to use the most advanced equipment and techniques available today, as well as to take advantage of the changes and improvements that will certainly come in the future."

Research and clinical practice are important at the School of Medicine, and Shapiro points to the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center as proof of the University's equal commitment to medical education.

"We are very proud of what it will offer our students," Shapiro says. "We believe, literally, that we have the best medical students in the country, and that it is only appropriate to have a facility worthy of those minds."

Ultimately, to create a transformative educational experience for students, the University is pairing its intellectual strength with first-class physical facilities, says Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.

"We seek the kinds of settings and spaces that allow the highest quality educational experience," says Wrighton, regardless of whether that occurs in a Lopata House seminar room, in the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center, or at still another venue at Washington University. "The key is to create environments that join students and faculty, formally and informally, to share knowledge, develop relationships, and grow together intellectually."

David Fiedler, A.B. '93, is a free-lance writer based in St. Louis.