San Marcos,
16:22 PM

New Extended Learning Building a Gateway to Innovation

By Trisha Ratledge

With its official opening on Aug. 26, Cal State San Marcos’ Extended Learning building moved from first shovel to first class in just 16 months. As the largest academic building on campus, the six-story, 135,000-square-foot EL building (ELB) brings all Extended Learning operations under one roof for the first time and becomes home to student support centers, lab and research facilities, select CSUSM academic departments, administrative offices such as CSUSM Corporation and inventive learning spaces such as the CSUSM Corp Innovation Hub.

With every college at CSUSM represented in the building and programs serving individuals from first-year undergraduates to lifelong learners, the ELB is a comprehensive education center designed to bridge disciplines and inspire innovation. The facility includes 19 new classroom and lab spaces equipped with technology-rich features such as 4K projectors and mobile instructor stations with touch-screen displays and digital pens for annotation. Open floor plans with flexible configurations not only encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration but enable the programs in the building to meet the educational needs of an expanding campus and community for many years.

“This multifunction space creates opportunities for the campus to grow programs,” said Bella Newberg, executive director of CSUSM Corporation. “This is a great space for interdisciplinary activity. We are always going to have specialized buildings, but having flexible space is an asset to the campus as a whole. This model really is the future.”

Located in the North City development in San Marcos, the project — which includes a 709-space parking structure — expands the campus footprint by two acres and serves as a gateway between university and community. A new pedestrian bridge, scheduled to open in October, provides a quick pathway to the ELB and creates a direct connection between the education, athletics and cultural offerings at CSUSM and the residential, commercial and entertainment amenities in North City.

An entrepreneurial venture from the start, the ELB is the first academic building in California established through a unique public-private partnership, which required no state funds for its design, planning or construction.

“This public-private partnership reimagines how we can expand campuses and integrate education within our communities,” said Mike Schroder, dean of Extended Learning. “The EL building has been meticulously designed to serve every student on our campus as well as the community — both today and well into the future.”

One of the key benefits of the Extended Learning building is the opportunity to reconnect academic areas that have operated in separate locations due to limited space availability on campus. Level 2 of the ELB is now home to the Centers for Learning and Academic Success Services (CLASS), including the Academic Success Center, STEM Success Center and Writing Center. Complementary centers on the same floor include the Center for Research and Engagement in STEM Education and CAMP/PASO, initiatives serving students from migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds (CAMP) and dedicated to increasing Latin@ retention and graduation rates (PASO).

The proximity of these support areas means that students can move effortlessly from one center to the next to get the assistance they need. Located across the street from The Quad, a block from University Village Apartments, and just down the hill from the University Student Union, this one-stop shop offers first-year and continuing students an easy route to academic success support.

“We are a relatively young office, turning five this year,” said Dr. Dawn Formo, dean of Undergraduate Studies. “This (move) is going to generate some meaningful changes.”

During the 2018-19 academic year, students made more than 54,000 visits to the academic learning centers, and the staff has been exploring how to best accommodate student needs and continue increasing attendance in this new location.

As a start, the Writing Center is piloting live, online video conferencing for three courses. Also, the Office of Undergraduate Studies launched CougarBot, a chatbot for first-year and new transfer students that provides a friendly connection to campus and helpful information and reminders via text message.

“One of the things we’ve been working on this year is developing in a very intentional way a virtual footprint of all of our academic learning centers,” Formo said. “My ultimate goal is that students can come to the brick-and-mortar centers or meet by online appointment. We want to meet students where they are and support them on their pathways to academic success.”

Like the academic support centers, Extended Learning has combined its collective units into one space for the first time in the new building. As the academic outreach branch of CSUSM, Extended Learning serves nearly 4,000 students annually with undergraduate and graduate degrees in collaboration with CSUSM’s colleges as well as professional certificates, online education, customized training for businesses and education for older adults through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. In addition, Extended Learning serves nearly 1,000 students annually through the Office of Global Education, study abroad and the American Language and Culture Institute (ALCI).

“The flexible and innovative space in the Extended Learning building will allow us to expand our existing programs and create new programs integrating progressive methods of teaching and research so we can anticipate the long-term needs of our students and of local industry,” Schroder said. “We are here to support our students throughout their education and careers.”

Many students in the new building are working toward their next career move by completing short-term, professional certificate programs through Extended Learning. With a wide range of disciplines and education pathways represented in one building, the ELB provides a unique peek into education opportunities for the beginning student and the returning student alike.

“What I hear a lot of our students saying is that they haven’t been to school in years or they’ve never been on a college campus,” said Cathy Scavone, senior director, Professional and Workforce Programs. “But going through our programs often gives them self-confidence and exposes them to new opportunities. When they finish their program, they may look at another of our certificate programs or degree programs that can help them advance in their career.”

The Office of Global Education and ALCI, another segment of Extended Learning, enriches the campus culture through internationalization and inclusive excellence by working to increase the number of international students at CSUSM and by encouraging CSUSM students to study abroad.

In the ELB, a third of the global suite space is designed as an open lounge for international and domestic students to connect and it is fully equipped with couches, computer workstations and moveable tables and chairs. In addition, global education and ALCI staff, until recently located in three separate buildings, are now just steps from each other, making it easier to collaborate on new directions for their programs.

“I think people have a tendency to be innovative when they have an opportunity to get out in front of their cubicle or their office and engage with individuals who might have a different perspective or a new idea,” said Robert Carolin, executive director of the Office of Global Education, who also anticipates that the shared suite will encourage joint programming to emerge between global education and ALCI staff as the year progresses.

Another important focus for CSUSM — research, lab and clinical training — gets a boost in the ELB with lab spaces designed for 21st century learning and technology geared for flexibility, sustainability and long-term compatibility. Students across many academic disciplines will benefit from a new nursing skills lab, a computer and cybersecurity lab, two biology labs and two kinesiology labs.

The kinesiology lab on Level 1, for example, is designed for biomechanics research with an 18-foot ceiling and an industrial roll-up door that opens to a wide, paved pathway.

“In kinesiology, we haven’t had a lab that’s been big enough to study some of the things we want to look at,” said Jeff Nessler, professor of motor control/biomechanics. “You need a lot of space to be able to study movements like running and jumping. Now, we can have people start outside the lab and run in so we can acquire data. The lab also allows us to bring in large pieces of equipment like a skate ramp. There is very little research on skateboarding; this opens up new opportunities.”

Kinesiology is a research-intense discipline, Nessler adds, and the needs of the grad students, faculty and undergraduate lab sections have overwhelmed the available lab space. Last year, a temporary lab in The Quad helped alleviate some scheduling issues. This year, the two new kinesiology labs in the ELB increase the hours available for student and faculty research, and Nessler says the location in North City with an adjacent parking structure makes the program highly compatible with community-based research.

Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) also works closely with the community in both its research and its programming. During 2018-19, SLP graduate students provided more than 4,800 hours of free consultation in speech-language, communication, cognitive or swallowing services to more than 170 individuals in the community, despite having offices and classrooms spread across campus and a speech-language consultation center located 3 miles off campus. To run simulation exercises, SLP staff accessed the simulation theater and medical manikins from the nursing program when available.

In the ELB this year, the SLP program has a centralized suite comprising offices, classrooms and the speech-language center. The area also includes a dedicated simulation space with SLP manikins, a simulation kitchen and the flexibility to add virtual-reality learning soon.

“We are almost doubling the number of simulations we are doing with the students because of the dedicated space,” said Lori Heisler, chair of the Speech-Language Pathology Department. “Having better access to equipment and materials to practice skills definitely enhances learning for our students.”

With faculty and students in the EL building representing the health sciences, language and culture, science and technology, the public sector and more, this pioneering learning center is a microcosm of the CSUSM campus, creating the potential not only for cross-disciplinary collaboration, but for new pathways in education.

The CSUSM Corp Innovation Hub — in the developmental phase — is one such pathway, encouraging entrepreneurship by providing a working space for students, faculty, staff and members of industry to purposefully take ideas developed in the classroom to a real-world conclusion, whether it’s a product, a creative pursuit, a business concept or a solution for an issue in the community.

“There are a lot of creative ideas across campus, and we have industry interacting with campus, faculty with research and students with internships,” Newberg said. “We want to take all of these perspectives and bring them into a space that creates synergy for learning.”

Tentatively expected to launch in the fall of 2020, the Innovation Hub represents the best of entrepreneurship and community engagement, and — like the departments and centers throughout the Extended Learning building — demonstrates what is possible when individuals with different strengths work toward a common goal.

“The Extended Learning building is truly an innovative and entrepreneurial space that welcomes diverse voices and nurtures bold ideas,” Schroder said. “We are just getting started, and I am excited to see what our students and faculty will create for the future of our campus and the region.”

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