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$4 Million Renovations Make Way for New Department of Business and Economics Space

The new Department of Business and Economics space in the Robertson Center (RC) will include a classroom, conference room, faculty offices, collaborative learning spaces, and an interactive financial markets lab.

There are a few iconic spaces on Bethel’s campus that visitors remember long after they’ve left: The Scandinavian-inspired Benson Great Hall, with its vaulted ceilings and rich woodwork; the light-flooded Olson Art Gallery; high-tech clinical spaces; the rolling lakeside hills of Bethel Seminary; and the bustling Brushaber Commons.

In fall 2018, Royals will be able to add another memorable space to that list when the Department of Business and Economics relocates to a highly visible, 7,000-square-foot, cutting-edge area on the Robertson Center’s (RC) third level. The thoughtfully designed space—and the innovative programming that will take place there—will rival other top Bethel environments for its beauty, functionality, and inspiring presence within the university.

“We lovingly call this our ‘beautiful hallway,’” says Joyce LeMay, department chair and associate professor of business, from her office in the department’s current space. She oversees 15 full-time faculty, 12 adjunct instructors, two support staff, and nearly 500 students in Bethel’s largest undergraduate department. But until this year, the group hasn’t had dedicated departmental space besides that hallway—flanked by faculty offices and a smattering of shared rooms—in the Academic Center’s (AC) second level.

While the team has made the most of their existing space and capitalized on adjacent lounges and classrooms for cross-functional gatherings, they’re ecstatic about the coming move and what it will mean for cohesion and collaboration—not to mention their ability to attract new students and keep existing ones engaged. “Right now, we don’t have a place to meet our students, to greet them,” says LeMay, who also routinely works with alumni and corporate partners from the wider business community. “We’re already well-known for being collaborative—but not to the level we want to be. We’re all tripping over each other a little bit. This space will really allow for us to build on the engagement, collaboration, and high academic standards we’ve built.”

Recently LeMay, a group of her faculty peers, and representatives from Bethel’s facilities and campus leadership teams began dreaming about what a new-and-improved, dedicated space might look like. The goals were specific: to create an environment that supports the innovative, hands-on learning and world-class business training going on in the department. To encourage student engagement and strong faculty-student relationships in a flexible, appealing, and welcoming way. And perhaps most importantly, to relocate and consolidate the growing department on a main campus thoroughfare so that it could have a more consistent, meaningful presence with visitors and other students.

“It’ll feel ‘uniquely consistent,’” says Mike Lindsey, associate director of planning and projects, with a chuckle. While maintaining consistency with the timeless and recognizable Bethel color palette, look, feel and functionality of other spaces across campus, the team is infusing energy and cutting-edge capabilities that today’s students look for in their spaces. For instance, a large, dedicated classroom will have SMART Boards, wireless connectivity between laptops and wall-mounted monitors, and ample ways for students to engage with content as a large group, in smaller discussion groups, or individually.

“There’s been a shift in how we look at the Facilities Management function on campus—going from updating carpets and changing lightbulbs to really thinking about elevating spaces so they elicit a ‘wow,’” says Vice President for Facilities and Technology Mark Posner. He and his team have been key in defining how updates and renovations on campus can best serve the student body and Bethel’s staff and faculty. “We’re really reimagining what tired spaces can be and the transformation that can take place on campus.”

A hands-on financial lab—complete with real-time stock tickers and live data—will facilitate projects and discussions centering on global stocks. Conference and smaller huddle rooms will allow for workgroups to share ideas, supporting their work with monitors and whiteboards. A variety of high- and low-top tables, comfy couches and chairs, and booths will accommodate groups within a large, open space between glass-lined faculty offices. Faculty voted unanimously to give up coveted office square footage in order to eke out as much shared, student-centric space as possible.

“It’ll feel like Bethel, but with an eye on the particular department needs—reflecting the unique character and personality of this thriving community within our community,” Lindsey says. One key difference is that while the department used to be situated in a wing of the AC, far from foot traffic, now most visiting athletes—plus Bethel’s students, faculty, and staff—will see into the well-branded department as they walk from the RC entrance toward the rest of the academic buildings. “One of the major objectives of developing our most recent Campus Master Plan was to put this group in a strategic location, on a main thoroughfare. We will definitely have achieved that!” Lindsey says.

LeMay and her colleagues spent the summer touring corporate workspaces to get a sense of how innovative office spaces are being laid out. They used ideas from those visits as a foundation and then tweaked their plan with Bethel students and specific academic goals in mind. “Collegiality. Vibrancy. Energy. Focus. Purpose. These are the words we’ve been using as we think about the new space,” LeMay says. “It’ll be professional, but not so professional that it’s not warm and inviting to students. It’s really all about the student experience.”

“I think there’s a lot of momentum on campus right now,” Lindsey adds. He notes that like other campus spaces that have been updated recently, it will be adaptable, able to accommodate a variety of learning styles, personalities, and tasks—and designed to flex with how students prefer to learn and communicate, now and for years to come. “It’s exciting!” he says.  

This project—and the new offices created for those relocated from the RC third level—is being funded by a group of anonymous donors. Thanks to their generosity, no operational or tuition dollars will be used to make these innovative spaces a reality. About $600,000 in donor support is still needed to finish this and related projects. If you’re interested in supporting this project or others like it, contact Paul Deakins in the Office of Advancement. Or learn more about the Department of Business and Economics at Bethel.

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