Center of It All

June 02, 2020

By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA

In January, Rollins officially opened Kathleen W. Rollins Hall, the College’s new headquarters for applied liberal arts learning.

As an entrepreneur who views the world through a digital lens, William Glass ’14 looks at the new Kathleen W. Rollins Hall—made possible by a transformative $10 million gift from Trustee Kathleen W. Rollins ’75—and sees parallels to a well-tuned e-commerce platform.

Both make it easy to step inside, explore a world of possibilities, and find what you need.

“It’s all about lowering the barrier to entry and reducing as much friction as possible,” says Glass, host of the Silicon Alley podcast and co-founder of the soon-to-launch Ostrich personal finance app.

Just like today’s online shopping is more seamless and user-friendly than in years past, so too is accessing experiential programs at the heart of the Rollins mission—the same ones that helped Glass, an international relations major, land a Fulbright scholarship, study abroad, facilitate Immersions, work on campus, and, ultimately, launch a successful career.

“Before Rollins Hall, the departments that housed these programs were so dispersed,” he says. “Putting them all in one place gives students the opportunity to find what they’re interested in without doing such a heavy lift.”

That’s important, notes Glass, because “bringing together resources for a grander vision” is a concept that’s benefited him in multiple capacities, whether in sales for a Fortune 500 company or developing partnerships to fund a technology startup.

“The experiences I had in so many areas, from study abroad to Immersions to peer mentoring and being president of X Club, those things helped me, as an entrepreneur, connect different ideas and see things others might miss.”

The Career Studio—a dynamic, drop-in space where students can receive collaborative career advice—increased by 65 percent during Kathleen W. Rollins Hall’s first 40 days of operation.
The Career Studio—a dynamic, drop-in space where students can receive collaborative career advice—increased by 65 percent during Kathleen W. Rollins Hall’s first 40 days of operation. Photo by Scott Cook.

The Importance of Experience

Empowering students to put their education to work outside the classroom is a prime way Rollins prepares graduates for meaningful lives and productive careers. And research backs the effectiveness of this approach.

A recent survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) reveals that today’s employers demand college graduates who have demonstrated the ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings—precisely the kind of person Rollins Hall is designed to mold.

In that survey, executives and hiring managers also said they were more likely to hire candidates who had completed an internship or apprenticeship with a company or organization, a field-based project in a community with people from diverse backgrounds, a research project done collaboratively with peers, and service learning with a community organization.

Students forge powerful relationships with alumni mentors through Rollins’ Center for Career & Life Planning.

Students forge powerful relationships with alumni mentors through Rollins’ Center for Career & Life Planning.
Students forge powerful relationships with alumni mentors through Rollins’ Center for Career & Life Planning.Photo by Scott Cook.

Furthermore, research from Gallup-Purdue shows that college students who engaged in experiential learning, such as internships, study abroad, and community service, go on to lead more fulfilled lives and flourish professionally more than their peers.

As a result, the programs in Rollins Hall aren’t just giving our students transformational educational experiences—they’re also providing a competitive advantage for entering graduate school or the workforce.

The Center for Leadership & Community Engagement and Student Media are just two of the 10 powerful programs that have been strategically co-located in the new Kathleen W. Rollins Hall.

Powerful Programs

Strategically co-located in this new state-of-the-art facility are 10 programs central to the Rollins mission, equipping students with the experiential and relational learning opportunities necessary to gain a competitive advantage in the real world.

The Center for Career & Life Planning helps students on everything from writing cover letters and prepping for job interviews to pairing them with alumni mentors and securing the best internships in Orlando and beyond.

Tars engage issues facing communities in the 21st century through service-oriented projects like SPARC Day, Immersions, Bonner Leaders, and the student-led Democracy Project, which are orchestrated by the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement.

Student Media outlets WPRK, The Sandspur and The Independent are now housed in Rollins Hall, as are study abroad and faculty-led field studies through the Office of International Programs.

Field studies to places like Tanzania and Costa Rica—just two of the more than 90 global experiences administered by the Office of International Programs—provide students once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to tackle some of the 21st century’s most pressing issues.

In the Social Impact Hub, creative and sustainable solutions are developed to tackle societal inequities and environmental challenges. Likewise, the Sustainability Program features initiatives that include an urban farm, bicycle and recycling programs, and Fair Trade campaigns.

Finally, the Department of Social Entrepreneurship—first in the world to earn accreditation from AACSB, the world’s leading association of business schools—oversees an eponymous major where classroom learning is tied to community impact.

Year after year, programs such as these help Rollins stand out in state and national rankings that include campus engagement, top producer of Fulbright Scholars, quality of undergraduate teaching, and percentage of students who study abroad or participate in alternative breaks.

Out of these programs come well-rounded, highly accomplished students primed for success like Kinsley Gerks ’20, who will graduate in December as Rollins’ first social innovation major.

Gerks is the lead undergraduate employee at the Social Impact Hub, where she created and runs the Impact Incubator, a business accelerator for students focused on creating social enterprises.

In 2018, she was on a team that advanced to the finals of the Hult Prize in London, the world’s most prestigious collegiate competition for social innovation startups, for co-founding BatterEASE, a company that provides affordable energy solutions by refurbishing rechargeable lithium batteries.

“My time in the Social Impact Hub is all about collaboration and teamwork,” says Gerks, who transferred from another school because of Rollins’ commitment to social entrepreneurship and innovation. “The programs in Rollins Hall are great complements to my major, and the learning experiences have been more than I could ask for.”

Mentorship is one of the cornerstones of the Rollins mission that is embodied by the new Kathleen W. Rollins Hall.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Mentorship & Meaning Making

While some colleges take a very prescriptive approach to experiential education (e.g., do an internship junior year), Rollins promotes this form of learning early and often.

Combining an interdisciplinary curriculum with high-impact, hands-on programs, students enjoy the freedom to design their own pathway—and they have an entire community of experts to guide them thanks to the College’s unique mentorship model.

To this end, three additional offices in Rollins Hall are focused primarily on advising: International Student & Scholar Services, External & Competitive Scholarship Advisement, and Business Advising.

Mentors and advisors aid students in two important ways, explains Gabriel Barreneche, associate dean of advising. First, they chart their paths and connect them to experiential learning opportunities. Second, they frame the narrative of their Rollins journey, helping students convey to employers all they have learned.

“For me, mentoring and advising is the connective tissue that holds together the multiple experiences available to students in Rollins Hall,” says Barreneche. “Without these connectors, students might not naturally find their way to these amazing experiential learning opportunities. We know how powerful influencers have become in shaping the habits of our students. I like to think of our advisors and mentors in that same light.”

Beyond the appointment-based advising that happens in faculty and staff offices throughout Rollins Hall, Barreneche says the building has been conducive to “accidental and casual” interactions that can be just as informative and meaningful.

Another advantage is the close proximity of offices for referrals. For example, say a student attends an advising appointment with a professor in the social entrepreneurship department. The conversation might naturally turn to study abroad or summer internship opportunities. The professor, armed with a closer relationship to those offices, can walk the student downstairs or down the hall—instead of sending them across campus—to meet with staff members who can provide more specific information.

Kathleen W. Rollins Hall is designed to be an open, collaborative space.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Designing Collaboration

That’s one of many reasons why cross-departmental collaboration is the heartbeat of Kathleen W. Rollins Hall. So it’s no coincidence the building is at the heart of campus on Mills Lawn.

“It was definitely envisioned as a place to bring people together and co-locate programs that had previously been more difficult for students to find,” says Melissa Burns of EYP Architecture & Engineering, a firm that has worked with Rollins over the past decade on projects such as the Bush Science Center, Skillman Dining Hall, and other major renovations.

As lead architect, Burns was tasked with designing a highly collaborative space that maximizes engagement between students, mentors, and programs.

“We did a lot of listening,” she says. “We didn’t dictate what it needed to be. We just wanted to know things like, what are their activities, how do they engage with students, and what would an ideal situation look like.”

The result was a complete gutting of Mills Memorial Hall, which was built as a library in 1951.

Bright, open spaces replaced dark, cavernous hallways. Standard beige paint was out; bold yellows and blues were in. Glass enclosures. Modern furniture. An inviting amphitheater in the atrium. The Fox Den student lounge.

“The idea was that you could walk in through the front door of Rollins Hall and have a very clear sense of the campus center and the connections in the building,” says Burns. “The ground floor and second floor aren’t that far apart, and the stairway that connects them isn’t very tall, so you feel like you’re still part of the adjacent space. The transparency of the enclosed spaces is part of those visual connections that make a huge difference in the life and energy of the building.”

The original floor plan of Kathleen W. Rollins Hall

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

COVID-19 forced the College to go virtual in mid-March, but in the short time Rollins Hall was open, the co-location of like-minded programs had already produced a compounding effect.

As new neighbors in Rollins Hall, changemaking efforts such as the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement, Social Impact Hub, Department of Social Entrepreneurship, and Sustainability Program were producing increased collaboration and campus-wide exposure around social innovation.

More than 80 students a week attended the Design Lab for courses, workshops, and programs in design thinking around social issues that spanned everything from political science to anthropology. Pilot projects also began to take shape, including the Community Impact Lab, which allows faculty and students to work together with nonprofits on solutions to challenges facing the local community.

Rollins’ radio station, WPRK 91.5 FM, has already witnessed an increase in participation and student interest, and its new podcast studio attracted students and staff interested in curating original content for broadcast.

International students adopted Kathleen W. Rollins Hall as their home base, with convenient access to staff from the Office of International Student & Scholar Services.

“It has really inspired and redefined the way that departments across campus work together and reimagine their physical environments to foster integrative learning,” says Micki Meyer, Lord Family Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs-Community.

Perhaps the biggest change, notes Meyer, is how the Center for Career & Life Planning—previously located on the periphery of campus—is now a place for vibrant activity, increased engagement, and engineered collisions.

“We placed it at the entrance facing the Cornell Campus Center,” explains Meyer, “so that every single student who walks into the building sees career and life in action.”

It’s no wonder then that participation in the Career Studio—a dynamic, drop-in space where students can receive collaborative career advice and guidance on everything from resumes to job searches without an appointment—increased by 65 percent during Kathleen W. Rollins Hall’s first 40 days of operation.

Students work together in one of Kathleen W. Rollins Hall's study spaces.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Early Returns

Additional data from the first 40 days of Rollins Hall further illustrates the project’s tremendous impact.

Three dozen faculty in nearly 15 academic disciplines were teaching in SCALE-UP classrooms (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies), reimagining ways that 700-plus students engage in innovative learning across the liberal arts curriculum.

On top of the jump in Career Studio drop-ins, scheduled appointments in the Center for Career & Life Planning were up by 31 percent. In the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement, faculty appointments have increased by half, while student appointments in the Office of International Programs rose 18 percent. The new Office of Business Advising received more than 100 new appointments in just over a month.

The space is the heart of the Rollins Gateway.
Photo by Scott Cook.

What’s Next

Renovating Rollins Hall to bring together the programs at the heart of Rollins Gateway is just the beginning. A student leadership team has been hired to further support operations and programs, and alumni are being sought as donors, mentors, speakers, and career collaborators.

The beauty of this space is its flexibility, and when the campus opens again, new programs like “Your Journey Begins Here”—a series of micro courses designed to introduce students to Rollins Gateway experiences—will be launched to accelerate and elevate Rollins’ impact on our ever-evolving world.

In the meantime, staff and student leaders have been working hard to continue the momentum of Rollins Hall by using social media for program-based updates. In addition, the “Tars Together” and “Life is for Service” campaigns were developed to unite and connect the campus through a series of virtual community-building activities.

Of course, until students, faculty, and staff can meet again, face to face, the full potential of this transformative building lies just over the horizon.

At home on quarantine in early April, Meyer couldn’t help but reflect with a much-needed trip down memory lane.

“The most exciting thing about Rollins Hall was the student reaction,” she says. “They loved the space. Their eyes lit up when they entered the building. They felt the energy and excitement.”

Gerks is holding onto that energy. “The two months we did get to spend in Rollins Hall were awesome,” she says. “I’m so excited to go back.”

A Rollins professor leads a discussion in an outdoor classroom.

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