Industries Education

Building and buzzing

Schools across Virginia strive to accommodate increasing demand

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Pamplin College of Business is building a new
$225 million campus. Courtesy Virginia Tech

Amid its ongoing $500 million construction and campus renovation campaign, Liberty University will build a 78,000-square-foot home for its School of Business, to open by fall 2018.

Designed by Richmond firm Glavé & Holmes Architecture, the new business school building will house an auditorium, its Center for Entrepreneurship, a trading room, the university’s information technology program and “gathering spaces not only for our students but for the business community in the region,” says Liberty School of Business Dean

Scott Hicks. “We want this to be a destination spot for them to come in and take advantage of using the facility and work with our students.”

The building will stand where Religion Hall now is located on Liberty’s Lynchburg campus. Its cost has not been finalized.

Liberty’s business school isn’t alone in making ambitious plans. The business of teaching business is booming these days at Virginia’s major universities, which are erecting buildings, starting new endeavors to encourage entrepreneurship and expanding degree programs.

New campus at Tech
For example, Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business is building a new $225 million campus, to be called the Global Business and Analytics Complex. It will include two 100,000-square-foot academic buildings and two residence halls. Construction will begin in 2020 (on a site now occupied by parking lots) and is expected to be complete by 2023.

Tech’s business school enrollment has outgrown its old space at Pamplin Hall, which was built in 1957 and renovated in 1988, says Dean Robert Sumichrast. The new academic buildings will be conducive to active learning and teamwork, he says, while the residential halls will house U.S. and foreign students and include an apartment for an international faculty member in residence. “This is a terrific asset for the university,” Sumichrast says. “Complementary causes came together that will give us resources to attract faculty and students interested in business and all forms of analytics.”

James Madison University’s College of Business also is expanding to meet the demands of growing enrollment. It is building a College of Business Learning Complex, a $15 million, 166,000-square-foot expansion and renovation project.

The school’s current home, JMU’s Showker Hall, was built in 1991 for 2,400 students. It now is packed with more than 5,000.  The Business Learning Complex is designed by New York-based Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) and Richmond-based Moseley Architects. So far the university has raised $7 million toward the project, which will break ground in late 2018 and should be completed by fall 2020.

Aside from creating some much-needed elbow room, though, the new complex also will better reflect changing business school philosophy.

“Our current building doesn’t fit our values as a college of business,” says Dean Mary Gowan. “We are really known for preparing students to be collaborative business partners when they go out into their jobs. They understand how to work in teams, they’ve got great interpersonal skills, a strong work ethic, and we don’t have space for them to practice those skills in the College of Business. We have maybe four [or] five very small breakout rooms for students, but that’s it. We encourage them to work in teams so they are sitting in a hallway, any little spot they can find, to work on their teams.”

Collaboration and innovation “will be at the heart and soul of the design,” she says.

EPIC effort at VCU
Entrepreneurship and creativity are hot topics at many universities. Take Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business, which this year launched a strategic plan aimed at promoting creative thinking among business students. Called EPIC (Experiential learning, Problem-solving curricula, Impactful research and Creative culture), the initiative capitalizes on VCU’s reputation as the No. 1 public arts and design school in the nation.

The initiative has included the ongoing “Shark Tank”-like EPIC Challenge, a competition to pitch ideas to support the EPIC ethos. Open to teams comprised of faculty, students, staff and/or alumni, a handful of teams have so far received $30,000 to $70,000 to develop their ideas. Winning concepts include a new education model that would have students accessing some lecture content online and devoting more class time to team activities and homework.

The VCU School of Business also hired Richmond artist Noah Scalin as the business school’s first artist-in-residence. In addition to talking to students about creativity, Scalin crafted a portrait of Maggie L. Walker, a historic African-American businesswoman, from piles of donated clothing. “Our vision statement is driving the future of business through the power of creativity,” explains Senior Associate Dean Kenneth Kahn. “There is a vibe at the [VCU] School of Business around creativity that you don’t pick up when you go to other business schools.”

Also cultivating creativity and entrepreneurship is the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, which converted one of its classrooms into an innovation lab featuring open space and several writable surfaces to encourage student startup businesses, collaborations and entrepreneurship studies. Students participating in the university’s summer Richmond Guarantee program, which provides $4,000 to students for fellowships or faculty-sponsored research projects, will be able to apply that funding toward startups that they work on in the lab, says Dean Nancy Bagranoff.

Expanding programs
Business schools also are expanding degree programs.

The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business has added a Washington, D.C.-area location for its Executive MBA and Global Executive MBA programs. Its home is on the 25th floor of the Waterview Tower in Rosslyn, overlooking the Potomac River and the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.

“It’s probably got the best view in Washington,” says Ronald T. Wilcox, senior associate dean for degree programs. “It probably makes our Charlottes­ville students jealous.”
Brett Twitty, director of admissions for executive formats, says, “This August we enrolled 120 executive format students, up from 92 in the previous year, 61 of whom selected our

Washington, D.C.-area location. It is clear that offering two world-class locations — Charlottesville and the Washington, D.C. area — and two executive formats of the Darden MBA …  adds an attractive option to working professionals seeking a world-class executive MBA experience. The recruitment process for our Class of 2019 is underway, and, while it is still early, we are very excited by the strong interest we have seen from prospective students in the D.C. metro area as well as throughout the country and world.”

Meanwhile George Mason University’s School of Business is building on Northern Virginia’s prominence as a mecca for federal contractors by raising $1 million toward its new GovCon initiative, which is focused on preparing students to work in government contracting. GMU has hired John Hillen, former president and CEO of Sotera Defense Solutions, to chair the initiative.

“We will be the first [business school] in the nation to take a look at this industry as a vertical. … It’s never been seen as an independent sector of its own,” says GMU School of Business Dean Sarah E. Nutter. “It’s a fascinating industry that has this intersection of business policy and regulatory issues. The biggest players are all in and around this area … and we should be the school that’s taking the lead.”

In addition to building a new home for its business school, Liberty University is developing a new automotive dealership management curriculum in partnership with Charlotte, N.C.-based Hendrick Automotive Group, the nation’s largest privately held car dealership group. Hicks, the school’s dean, notes only two other colleges in the nation offer similar programs, despite the fact that the United States has the second-largest auto industry in the world. The U.S. has about 118,000 dealerships, employing a variety of workers in positions ranging from administration and sales to back-office financial workers, information technology to mechanics.

The new curriculum also will address topics such as how dealerships can successfully adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace, which now includes driverless cars as well as on-demand transportation services such as Uber.

Discussing the changes coming to the bustling school, Hicks remarks, “We’re constantly moving. It’s nonstop.”

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