Freshly planted trees and flowers bloomed as if it were April and not late August. Major renovations have turned bland buildings to sleek steel-and-glass structures. The campus is packed with some 20 sculptures, some large and exposed, others subtly tucked into the landscaping. Inside the buildings, hallways are lined with paintings, photographs and educational murals.
But there is more at work here than revamping the outward look of the campus. The improvements are part of the college’s emphasis on “ambient learning,” explained Provost Richard Prystowsky.
“Wherever a student is, the student should be learning,” he said. “It’s not just for aesthetics — it’s a chance for education.”
Of course, that ambient learning requires the students to actually be on campus. And that’s where the less visible parts of the college’s plans come in to play. The college recently nixed its hourly parking options in favor of a one-time per-semester fee, hoping that would encourage students to stay on campus longer. Major renovations to the Gannon Building and the Arts and Sciences Building include significant study and dining areas, and a new outdoor courtyard features tables for eating or hanging out. While it will be several years before LCC has solid numbers to see if the investment pays off, Prystowsky already notices a difference on campus.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “It seems that a lot more students are on campus taking advantage of resources.”
These concepts, Prystowsky explained, are part of a college-wide initiative called Operation 100%. The program includes a wide range of ideas, including streamlined counseling and redesigned degree paths, with hopes of reaching a 100 percent success rate for students who start a degree program at LCC.
Alexandria Rodriguez and Mia Grant, who stopped between classes to hang out in the new outdoor courtyard, are both in their third semesters at LCC. They expressed a certain ambivalence about the renovations.
“It looks a lot nicer,” said Rodriguez. “But the price is not something I agree with. They could have used the money to make learning better.”
“The reason we go to college is to learn, not to look at pretty things,” added Grant.
But Rodriguez, 17, and Grant, 18, admit that they are “always on campus.” The East Lansing High School students are part of LCC’s High School Diploma Completion Initiative, which allows local high school students to simultaneously complete diploma requirements and earn college credits.
Heath Sartorius, who started at LCC in 2012, has been on campus for most of the major renovations, including the year-long renovation of the Gannon Building, where he had several classes.
“I remember hating that year,” he said. “It got a little annoying.”
Sartorius, 22, is finishing up an associate degree in theater. Now that the major renovation projects are complete, he appreciates the result.
“I’ve always loved the art on campus,” he said. “It makes it more fun, more welcoming.”
And for his part, he hasn’t noticed a drop-off in educational quality as the college invests in its infrastructure.
“There are great teachers here, especially in the theater department,” he said. “The quality of the classes never changed for me.”
Friday afternoon, Grace Joo sat in the Commons, a sleek white-and-grey dining area with several food vendors and huge glass windows looking out over Grand Avenue. The dining area, which is packed with students at lunchtime almost every day, is part of the $18 million renovation of the Gannon Building. She shared her feelings about the campus as she prepared a pasta lunch she had brought from home.
“It feels really modern because of all of the art,” she said. “It feels like an actual campus.”
Joo, 16, is an Okemos High School student enrolled in the High School Diploma Completion Initiative. She is starting her first semester at LCC, and is planning to study design and architecture at a four-year university. She said the aesthetics of campus are something she will consider when choosing her next school.
“I would prefer a school that looks modern and has a lot of art,” Joo said. “That will definitely affect my decision.”