“Building a sense of place and space in ECE”
In September 2018, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering opened the ECE Learning Center. The space is in alignment with the department’s practice of supporting our student community through several venues: student groups of praxis, research opportunities, tutoring support, creative/maker spaces, and tutoring support. The study space has been made possible by support from the College of Science and Engineering, and the generosity of our donors. It is designed to bring students together, to study, collaborate, and get the help they might need from instructors and peers.
With the establishment of the Learning Center, the hope is that the room functions not only as a space for students to learn and work together, but also works to develop a sense of community and belonging in students pursuing our majors. The Center was established based on the premise held by education scholars that student success is directly correlated to a feeling of belonging and of being valued. And these are feelings that can be fostered by establishing spaces where students can actively engage with each other in projects, meet with faculty, or connect over other co- and extracurricular activities.
Conceived to function as a collaborative space, the Learning Center, which is located in 2-276 Keller Hall, will help our students connect with their class teaching assistants, and find available tutoring resources for their courses. It will also function as a group study space, and a place for students to work on academic projects or other creative endeavors. To support all of these, the room is equipped with five 55-inch television screens with HDMI connections, plenty of glassboard workspace, and several tables and chairs that can be organized based on needs.
Since the Center opened, it has been a busy place. Besides teaching assistants holding their scheduled office hours, we have also had faculty hold special study sessions before key mid-term exams. Prof. Beth Stadler has found the center to be a convenient place to meet students and address their class related queries, supported by the glass board and the displays. Besides, the layout of the room allows for multiple students to listen in and engage in the discussion with the faculty, which is typically not possible in the instructor’s office setting.
Prof. Beth Stadler, who recently used the center for a Q&A session before a midterm, says: “[The center] was easily accessible for me and the students, and we just hung out using the white board until all questions were answered.”
Other entities utilizing the room actively are Eta Kappa Nu (HKN), the IEEE honor society which has been holding tutoring hours, WIE (Women in Engineering), that has been coordinating study nights with HKN, and senior design students holding regular team meetings and brainstorming sessions, and practicing their presentations. While the space is only months old, based on how popular and busy it is turning out to be, we are hoping that it turns into an anchor location for our students to turn to during their hours after class. And perhaps, as they spend more time in the ECE Learning Center, studying and collaborating, they might establish long lasting connections, creating and nurturing the “sense of place” that education scholars George Kuh and Kathleen Mannine refer to in “Making Place Matter to Student Success.” They point to evidence that indicates that institutions that provide students a “palpable sense of place” can positively impact student success. Our hope is that the ECE Learning Center can be a catalytic space for our students for learning, success, and lifelong connections to people and the department.