As students returned to campus for the spring semester, one particular group had an extra spring in their step. Journalism students were clearly happy to be back home in their newly renovated, beloved Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism, after vacating their building a year ago during winter break.
"It's exciting for me, especially because I'm graduating in May, and I get to have one last semester in the building," said senior Madison Corney.
"I'm glad I got to see it before I graduate," agreed Charles Woodman, who will also graduate in May. "It looks really nice. The labs are a lot higher tech."
The improvements in technology are evident as soon as you enter the building, originally constructed in 1992. A huge video screen has replaced the large, old printing press in the Atrium. Although not completely operable yet, the new broadcast studios and multimedia room will be able to broadcast live to the screen when the renovation is complete, later this spring. Under the screen is a new, carpeted "reading corner" with a few chairs. Comfortable chairs, benches and cubes have been scattered throughout the building's hallways and nooks to create more places for students to gather together..
"They have already found the chairs and soft benches - we saw it on day one," grinned Rosemary McCarthy, academic chair at the school who has also assumed the role of managing the massive remodel, a process that began in 2009. The project took off that year in October, when the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation notified the school that it would generously provide $7.9 million to fund the renovation of the building, adding to its constant, substantial contributions to the school since the early 1980s.
McCarthy pointed out some improvements that have been made throughout the building - an updated fire alarm system, heating and cooling improvements, "swipe-card" security on doors, new window coverings, "And," she said, "new carpeting everywhere."
But, she quickly corrected herself. "Well, everywhere except in the faculty offices. We didn't do anything to the faculty offices," she said. "This was all about the students, and teaching."
The improvements for student comfort and learning are evident everywhere. There is lighter, more movable furniture, which allows for flexible room set-up and accommodates more students. Many of the classrooms have new computers, and tables and desks have plug-ins for students' laptops. New large screens, projector systems, podiums and large, floor-to-ceiling dry-erase or whiteboards facilitate teaching and group work.
In the Linn Reading Room on the first floor, the larger, block-style tables have been replaced with more modern, lighter, smaller tables to facilitate small groups and collaboration. A row of bookshelves on one wall has been replaced with a large video screen that students will be able to plug their laptops into and use while working together on projects. Some modern soft chairs and cubes have also been added.
Still there is the warmth of the hearth, the brick walls and wood trim that maintain a cozy, inviting atmosphere in the special room, named for Travis Linn, former dean of the school who fostered such a family atmosphere in the school for so many years. The room, and the whole building, now has a definite "old-meets-new" atmosphere, an atmosphere of which Linn, always fascinated with and at the forefront of the most recent technology, would greatly approve.
Gone are the old "dark rooms" that were in the design of the original building's first floor, and in their place is a new area for graduate students. It includes a large classroom with a projection screen, computers and other amenities, as well as a smaller group-work area, complete with computers, three screens for interactive work and lockers. The area, and many other spaces in the building, has been opened up to have a more airy feel, with walls knocked down and glass doors or windows in their place.
On the other side of the Atrium is a new information touch-screen that will be programmed to include photos of past journalism school graduates, the Ethics Pledge, which every student signs, and other hallmarks of the school.
Nearby is a new, lit awards showcase, which features projects and awards from the school's students and alumni, such as the six Pulitzer Prizes garnered by alumni. Across from the showcase are newly installed recycling cabinets and filtered water faucets for refilling water bottles. Plumbing fixtures have also been replaced with low-water-use technology.
One of the most exciting features of the renovation is the Multimedia Newsroom, which will be set up with studio lighting, an anchor desk, edit bays and workstations that are directly connected so that students will be able to work live together while sharing files in different parts of the building.
"Students will produce news for print, online and broadcast from this room," McCarthy stated, "because that is journalism today. Our students must be prepared to work across media now - the lines are blurred, and this renovation accommodates and reflects that."
Two other smaller studios, Studios A and B, are also being renovated.
"We're replacing all the old hand-me-down equipment," McCarthy stated. "And, these rooms won't just be used to provide a space for intimate, one-on-one broadcast interviews. They will also be used by students practicing pitches for public relations, advertising and marketing presentations. Students will be able to tape their presentations and watch and critique themselves."
Although all the technology is not up and running yet, Donica Mensing, interim dean of the school, said that both faculty and students are clearly glad just to be home.
"You can see how much the students missed it, and how much they missed students and faculty at the school being together," Mensing said. "We were all scattered, and our students are very used to just popping into our offices and sitting down. We're a close-knit school."
Mensing said that she and the faculty are just as happy as the students to be back home.
"We are reconvened and reconnecting," she said. "I told the faculty the other day, it's like we were exiled and wandered, but have finally made it back to the Promised Land."