A Bold Vision
by Sheryl Lynn Sochoka ’92
Launching Marywood’s Second Century
Education is changing. Society is changing. The ways people connect to one another continue to change. The Learning Commons at Marywood University will embrace these changes, becoming the intellectual and social heart of campus and the new iconic symbol of the launch of Marywood’s second century.
This is a dream that has been years in the making. The late Sister Patricia Ann Matthews, IHM, Vice President for Academic Affairs from 1986-2006, was an outstanding scholar and a visionary leader. Knowing that a Learning Commons was an important part of Marywood’s future, Sister Patricia moved the concept forward.
“I have a passion about this,” she said at the time. “It’s not a case of, ‘Are we going to do this?’ It’s a case of when we’re going to do it. This is what IS to be done, because this is how education is changing, and one of the standards of quality is about student engagement.”
Sister Anne Munley, IHM, Marywood’s President, has prioritized the Learning Commons, working tirelessly to achieve this priority—carrying forward Sister Patricia’s initial passion. Sister Anne has engaged members of the University and surrounding communities in the process to ensure that the project is realized. Her reason for doing so is clear: it benefits the students.
“First and foremost, whenever we embark on a project—any project—whether modest or of great magnitude, we do so with a singular purpose in mind: our students. It’s always been about the students since 1915—every building, every program, every decision, every action—all of it for the sake of the people who come to Marywood with a dream, or with potential, or both,” said Sister Anne. “The Learning Commons will play a major role in how we continue to accomplish this going forward.”
The late Cathy Schappert, Marywood’s former Library Director, also shared the vision for a Learning Commons and further cultivated it. Mrs. Schappert discussed the possibilities of what such a transformation could mean during a 2011 interview for Marywood Magazine. At the time, she did what she could to implement immediate changes in the current Library—changes that further advanced the possibility of what a larger-scale Learning Commons could achieve.
She analyzed student usage data, studied multiple learning strategies, and figured out ways to empower the process in the existing library space. Book stacks were moved to make way for movable chairs, tables, and work spaces; the Help Desk got a facelift; and the Study Grounds Café opened to provide a friendly, coffee house atmosphere. These relatively small, but effective, changes tripled the student gate count in just six months, and weekly gate counts jumped by 50 percent. Clearly, there was a need for the changes, and the students responded in droves.
At the time, Mrs. Schappert observed matter-of-factly, “Not surprising. A library is the heart of an institution.”
Sister Patricia knew it; Cathy Schappert knew it. Dr. Mirabito, who partnered with them on this mission, also knows it, and he has continued to advocate their collective vision. Through the years, he has presented the Learning Commons concept to Marywood’s trustees and has worked with two presidents to carry it forward.
“If you look at it from a university perspective, it’s a continuum. It was Sister Patricia’s idea—she started the process when Sister Mary Reap, IHM was Marywood’s President—and now Sister Anne is bringing it to fruition,” Dr. Mirabito said recently. “Even though it seems like separate steps, it’s actually a continuous flow, an enduring vision.”
He continued, “Part of our mission is to teach people to become lifelong learners, and all of the features of this facility will help to promote that. Programming will define the building as opposed to the building defining the program. It will open up amazing learning avenues for our students. It will allow faculty to experiment with different types of learning styles. It will be the centerpiece of this university.”
The Intellectual Heart of Campus
Dr. Mary Anne Fedrick agrees. The former Dean of the Reap College of Education and Human Development retired in June 2013, after serving Marywood for 42 years in a number of administrative and academic capacities—including, at one time, as Library Director. She hasn’t just witnessed progress, she’s helped guide it. She acknowledged that while the Learning Resources Center, which opened in 1968, was unique and innovative architecturally for its time, the next step is to move forward.
“Marywood was one of the first places that had integrated print and media into one collection, and we had the Media Center to support us with equipment and technology,” observed Dr. Fedrick, a three-time Marywood alumna. “To me, a Learning Commons—with electronic databases, with collaborative space, with an automated book retrieval system, with the sense of access to materials and instructional space—is the next logical and important step at Marywood.”
She added, “This isn’t just a pretty building—it will work and do what it’s supposed to do.”
“A library or Learning Commons wants to be the center or heart of the campus,” asserted David Hemmler, AIA, Principal for Hemmler + Camayd Architects. “In the case of Marywood University’s campus, there was also a wonderful heritage on which to build.”
“We knew we were placing the Learning Commons near other important campus landmarks, and so our building would have to enter into and participate in an existing dialogue between other structures and the surrounding spaces,” said Gabriel V. Hodge, AIA, Senior Associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Architects. “Ultimately, the new building would also have to represent Marywood’s founders, its students, faculty, administration, and its culture of collaborative study.”
Mr. Hodge, an architect whose expertise is larger scale works for colleges, universities, and cultural facilities, explained, “The first leap we made was to recognize the power of connecting the Learning Commons to the Memorial Arch on Adams Avenue through our redesigned Motherhouse Memorial and through the new building to the less-formal arts quad with amphitheater-style seating, thus threading the core of campus together with the center of learning and information—creating the physical and intellectual heart of campus.”
Think You Know What a Library Is? Think Again…
The Learning Commons will change minds about what a library is, how it works, and what it’s supposed to do. By seamlessly navigating the ever-changing learning landscape, the Learning Commons will in effect remove previous barriers to knowledge creation. Since it will not be merely a repository for information, the facility will become a place where people collaborate and create knowledge, using the latest technology and the energy that is borne of intellectual exchange and inspirational spaces.
“At the root of the Learning Commons is one major innovation that is fundamental to the concept of the building,” said Mr. Hodge. “This library will house its entire book and media collection within an Automated Library System. The University has made a commitment to the funding and building of a space that is devoted to the needs of the people rather than for the storage of books.”
“It is not a warehouse for books,” Mr. Hemmler concurred, “but a user-focused, service-rich environment for study and collaboration.”
Dr. Mirabito emphasized that this innovative approach provides both a solution to space issues and an opportunity to enhance learning. “Space is finite; with electronic browsing and an automatic retrieval system for books, you are enhancing the learning experience and maximizing space,” he said.
In addition to an automatic book retrieval system that will allow users to have thousands of unseen books at their disposal for research and study, the building will also provide sunlight-filled and open gathering spaces with computers and wireless accessibility for group work and the free exchange of knowledge. The option for quieter, more individualized study spaces will coexist with larger areas that feature flexible walls to accommodate the growing practice of group learning. The facility’s conference space, collaborative technology, and global connectedness will be second to none in the region.
“It really does balance the collaborative with the contemplative,” observed Dr. Mirabito. “We all learn differently, and this facility will have space that matches the needs of every kind of learner. It’s also flexible enough that if there’s another communications revolution down the road in 10 or 20 years, it will easily adapt and accommodate such changes.”
Architecturally, it will be an inspiring setting, conducive to social, collaborative, and shared experiences, from small groups and virtual conferences to large crowds and live performances. Its primary characteristics will be its openness and sustainable design. Sculpture by Sister Cor Immaculatum Heffernan, IHM will grace the Learning Commons, which will also feature soaring glass panels and a stunning glass atrium rising above an expansive entrance, reflecting, in modern terms, the iconic style of the Rotunda. Power sources will be supplied under raised floors, to ensure maximum mobility and offer users the opportunity to redesign a space at a moment’s notice.
In addition, Marywood University wants to present entrepreneurship as a viable career path.
Sister Anne recently hosted a President’s Community Breakfast to engage community leaders and discuss these possibilities, including fostering collective entrepreneurship through an exciting feature of the Learning Commons, known as the Entrepreneurship Launchpad (ELP). By connecting new entrepreneurs with mentors, experts, and resources, the ELP program will provide advice, counsel, and the network necessary to successfully turn ideas into opportunities.
Emerging Media programs will benefit from the new facility as well. Plans are in place to include a recording studio, a TV studio, a radio station, and an editing suite.
The Learning Commons also will feature a Knowledge Bar, where students can get individual expert advice or find information on their own using advanced interactive tools. Abundant café seating will be available on the main terrace, allowing people to gather, take a break, enjoy pleasant conversation, and get a bite to eat. The building’s exterior will feature a newly expanded lawn with an outdoor amphitheater where academics, staged art, open-air exhibitions, and recreation can thrive.
New Library Director David G. Schappert was recently named to the post once held by his late wife, Cathy. Mr. Schappert, an accomplished librarian in his own right, had previously served as Director of the Reeves Library at Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem. He is currently the First Vice President/President-Elect of the Pennsylvania Library Association and will become its President in 2015—the same year that Marywood University’s Learning Commons will be dedicated.
Recalling how Cathy collaborated with others to guide the dream for a Learning Commons during her tenure as Marywood’s Library Director, Mr. Schappert said he plans to carry forward that shared vision. This personal connection, he observed, plus his own extensive experience as a professional library director for institutions of higher education, brings into sharp focus the main reason that such an outstanding learning facility should be built: the benefits that the Learning Commons will bring to Marywood University students.
“We want to help people do better work and to get excited about the work they do. Marywood is doing its part to shape the whole person,” said Mr. Schappert. “The Learning Commons is an important piece of that process. Students deserve high-quality library services to help them attain a world-class education.”
Ready for the Future
Championed by university leaders—past and present—the Learning Commons has benefitted from this storehouse of wisdom and is ready to break ground in more ways than one.
“This Learning Commons is going to benefit current students, attract future students, and it will stand as a living testament to all that the IHM Sisters have built here for the past century. It will reflect their values and their dreams for Marywood,” said Dr. Mirabito. “It’s been a long road, but the planning of this facility, for me, has been a very rewarding experience.”
“We are excited and grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with an institution of higher learning that is so committed to venturing headlong into the future, charting their own path and providing such innovative solutions to the needs of their campus community,” added Mr. Hodge.
Colorful renderings give just a glimpse of what’s possible; these canvases of ideas, vision, and leadership have transformed long-perceived, deeply-researched academic and community needs into innovative solutions. The Learning Commons manifests that vision by bridging a cherished past to an emerging future. By the Centennial year of 2015, it will be a vision realized.
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“If you look at it from a university perspective, it’s a continuum. It was Sister Patricia’s idea—she started the process when Sister Mary Reap, IHM was Marywood’s President—and now Sister Anne is bringing it to fruition. Even though it seems like separate steps, it’s actually a continuous flow, an enduring vision.”
Dr. Michael Mirabito
L to R: Sister Mary Reap, IHM and Sister Patricia Ann Matthews, IHM
Sister Anne Munley, IHM at the groundbreaking for the Learning Commons.