Trust academics to design classrooms of future, says president

US university leader explains how top teachers were selected to design a new multimillion-dollar teaching centre.

How do you create a university building that will encourage outstanding innovative teaching?

That question has vexed architects, educationalists and higher education leaders throughout the world for years despite billions of pounds being poured into flashy campus facilities. However, one US university believes that it has found a relatively simple answer: ask academics to design their own classrooms.

While undertaking a major upgrade of its Rhode Island campus, Bryant University asked its most innovative teaching staff to take the lead on the creation of a $31.5 million (£24.8 million) Academic Innovation Centre.

Teachers from all disciplines were invited to submit ideas for a syllabus that would be taught in a bold new way, with an eight-strong faculty committee choosing the best applicants to guide architects on plans that could put their ideas into action.

Not all ideas put forward by this teaching brains trust made it to the drawing board, however, with some rejected after being tested on students in specially adapted classrooms, explained Ronald Machtley, Bryant’s president.

“We started with just a couple of classrooms that cost about $15,000 each to convert,” said Mr Machtley, who viewed such investment as worthwhile when planning a multimillion-dollar project.

“In one case, we put touchscreens into the desks, but that really interfered with teaching,” he said. In other trials at the five-year pilot stage, academics experimented with the position of desks and chairs, changing their spacing and position depending on the different courses taught in the classroom, added Mr Machtley.

“Some faculty went through four or five iterations before they found the right set-up,” he said.

While academics and architects visited world-leading teaching spaces at Harvard and Stanford universities to gather ideas on good design, this testing process was invaluable to the success of the facility, which is about to celebrate its first anniversary, said Mr Machtley, a former Republican representative for Rhode Island who has led the private university since 1996.

“If we had gone straight into the building process, it would have been an architectural nightmare,” he claimed.

Thanks to the trial phase, Bryant was able to “replicate great ideas from Stanford, but improve on them”, he added. For instance, lecturers found classes worked better when there was more space in-between seats – something that was made possible by using light and movable furniture, rather than fixed chairs commonly found in lecture auditoriums.

This process even saw academics agree to scrap one of the “historic fixtures” of US academia – the lecture podium, said Mr Machtley.

“We spent a lot of time talking about the podium and decided that when faculty go behind it, they are not as effective when teaching,” he said.

Classrooms in the new “very transparent building” have several glass walls, which, Mr Machtley believed, had led to a “remarkable transformation” in student attitudes to learning.

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Mentors connect Bryant students to invaluable experience

Bryant’s culture of mentoring is a key aspect of the University’s student experience, and an important element of preparing for postgraduate success. Take a look at some of the ways students gain guidance and perspective through the University’s corporate partnerships, world-class faculty and extensive alumni network.

Finding answers

The CVS Women’s Success Network Mentoring Program matches 34 CVS Health leaders with 36 Bryant students in a program open to undergraduates, graduate students, and Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies students.

Three group meetings, held throughout the semester, cover topics that include resume writing, interviewing, and career paths. The heart of the program is the individual relationships students develop with  their CVS mentors. Each pairing tailors meetings and discussion topics to meet the student’s needs.

“When I think about the great mentors I’ve had over the years, they listen, they give advice, but they never tell you what to do,” says Laurie Hubble-Brown MBA ’04, a Strategic Human Resources Business Partner at CVS Health Corporation. This past spring she mentored Meaghan Mahoney ’19, a Business Administration major concentrating in Human Resources.

Mahoney appreciates Hubble-Brown’s experience and her unique understanding of her industry. “Laurie’s definitely helped me explore my options and what will work best for me,” she says. “She’s helping me understand what’s worked for her and what didn’t work and what that means for me going forward.”

Gaining perspective

The College of Arts and Sciences Mentor Match program connects students and faculty who have common interests and experiences. The program provides an opportunity for students in the liberal arts and sciences to learn from faculty mentors who have expertise in one of three interdisciplinary areas: education, health care, or environmental studies.

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Bryant students benefit from a positive return on investment on their degree

At a time when the value of a college education is increasingly measured in terms of “return on investment,” recently released data suggest Bryant graduates receive high value for their Bryant degree.

An annual survey conducted by Bryant’s Office of Planning and Institutional Research (see below for background about survey) shows an impressive payoff in terms of salary for a Bryant education. The report shows that the median first-year salary for the Class of 2016 graduates is $57,000. In addition, 99 percent of graduates were employed or enrolled in graduate school within six months of Commencement.

The results of the survey of the Class of 2016 complements data provided by the U.S. Department of Education in its annual College Scorecard, which gives users access to extensive federal data on average college cost and graduate salaries for institutions across the U.S. It echoes Bryant’s high rankings for value published by major media outlets earlier this year.

Highlights from College Scorecard, Money, Forbes

According to the federal government’s latest College Scorecard, the University ranks high in return on investment among peers within Rhode Island. Bryant comes in first in the state among median earners, and ahead of Brown University and Providence College when it comes to graduates’ earnings after college. The scorecard shows that Bryant students who received federal financial aid have a median salary of $64,500 10 years after entering the University, whereas Brown University and Providence College graduates earn $59,700 and $57,700, respectively.

Bryant is on Money magazine’s list of 50 Colleges That Add the Most Value, otherwise known as schools that best help students exceed expectations financially and academically. And Bryant is ranked No. 68 in Money’s assessment of 736 colleges that provide the best value for your tuition dollar.

Forbes named Bryant as one of 300 schools worth the investment in 2016. And The Princeton Review included Bryant in  The Best 381 Colleges: 2017 Edition and ranked Bryant 18th in schools with the best career services.

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Forbes, U.S. News, International Business Times seek expert analysis from Bryant faculty

With global financial markets responding to the Presidential election, and investors anxiously speculating about the economic climate in 2017, Bryant Finance Professors Peter Nigro (left) and David Louton have been in high demand for their financial markets expertise. Here is a round-up of the news stories where they’ve provided comments and perspective.

International Business Times: Fed moves affect homeowners, young people

“It’s going to be more expensive to buy a house, and it’s going to be more expensive for people thinking of moving up,” said Professor Nigro in the Dec. 13 International Business Times article, “How Does the Fed Interest Rate Affect Other Things? Homeowners, Young People, Exporters Could Be Hurt By Wednesday Hike.” “Banks are always quick to raise rates on debt,” he added.

Washington Examiner: Impact of President-elect’s policies on interest rates

The Washington Examiner included comments from Professor Nigro and several Federal Reserve officials in the Dec. 13 article, “How the Fed will react to Trump’s victory.” Nigro noted that “there are so many unknowns” about what the President-elect will say and do, and he believes that Trump’s proposed policies will be a big topic for the Fed meeting this week.

TheStreet.com: Interest rates and home buying outlook

“I think the Fed really wants to be proactive in popping any potential bubbles going forward,” said Professor Nigro in the Dec. 12 article on TheStreet.com focused on trading ahead of the Dec. 13-14 Fed meeting. He added “that if market conditions persists he expects the Fed to raise interest rates two or three time during 2017.”

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