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Computer science surge sparks campus building boom

Ann Bednarz | March 24, 2015
College campuses across the U.S. are building new computer science facilities that encourage hands-on education and interdisciplinary research.

At a smaller scale, students need places to study nooks with tables and chairs, chalkboards, network access, lots of natural light, and 24/7 access. "The students can't get enough of these spaces," Kamal says. "They fill them up, they're occupied all the time. The more we put, they more they want."

Buffer spaces are also important such as informal meeting spaces among a cluster of faculty offices; department-centric spaces where students can find others in their majors; or gathering spaces outside of research labs.

Another kind of space that's changing campuses across the country is so-called maker space. These studio spaces have an entrepreneurial vibe. Tools and technologies are accessible to help students conceptualize, develop, and fabricate their ideas. There's also often meeting spaces for connecting with the business world and potential funding partners. (See related story, "Maker spaces boost student tech innovation")

These incubator and entrepreneurial spaces aren't only for STEM students; they're for the university community at large, Thaler says. Students want "opportunities to meet with other interdisciplinary groups, to formulate ideas, to fabricate ideas, to test and prototype and, ultimately, to meet with individuals outside of the university setting that could help them realize implementations of these ideas," Thaler says.

Gensler recently completed a maker space at New York University, named The Mark and Debra Leslie Entrepreneurs Lab. The 5,900-square-foot space includes co-working spaces, meeting rooms, an event space, and a fabrication lab. "Students from any walk of life can come there and see what entrepreneurship at NYU is all about," Thaler says.

Maker spaces can help colleges and universities recruit fresh talent, forge relationships with business, and retain inventive students. "They're building them to remain competitive and remain relevant and to keep students who have this increasingly entrepreneurial bent on campus," Thaler says.

Campus competition
The college admissions process is notoriously competitive, and universities are becoming more selective as the pool of qualified candidates continues to grow. It's not only the most prestigious schools that are becoming harder to get into; it's across the board. "Everybody is effected by this more competitive admissions landscape," says Bari Norman, co-founder and president of Expert Admissions, a college and graduate school advisory firm. "Everything is much more competitive than it was even five year ago."

At the same time, schools are competing to attract students, and cutting-edge facilities can help sway prospects.

Families go on college tours and see impressive new facilities whether it's a science center or a gym or a student center and if another school's facilities appear tired and old by comparison, they'll notice, Norman says. "That definitely registers with them," she says. "Whether or not it's a deal breaker is an individual thing."


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