The President's Page - March 22, 2000

Combining Old Charm and New Technology

Palmer Hall was given by Stephen S. Palmer, a trustee of the University from 1908 to 1913. At its 1909 dedication he said he had made the gift in recognition of the "absolute necessity of extending Princeton's usefulness in the field of science and of placing her in a position where she can respond to the demands that will be made upon her.'' Since 1909, many generations of students have learned physics in Palmer Hall, in a setting that hardly changed from the 1940s through the 1990s. This venerable hall, however, could no longer be adapted to the rapidly-changing needs of a contemporary science teaching facility. The difficulty of adapting the aging science facilities within the building to contemporary requirements was a major reason that we constructed McDonnell Hall in 1998. In addition, by locating McDonnell next to Jadwin Hall, home of the Department of Physics, we have been able more fully to integrate our undergraduate curriculum in physics into the life of the department, while providing state of the art equipment and teaching laboratories. Now, as part of the Frist Campus Center, Palmer Hall itself has been entirely refurbished. The resulting improvements to the classrooms, which are now fully "wired," would, I think, convince anyone that the building once again is amply prepared to, in the words of Stephen Palmer, "respond to the demands that will be made upon her."

From all reports the renovation is a great success. Robert Venturi '47 *50, the architect for the Frist Campus Center, was responsible for the renovation and has skillfully combined old charm and new technology. The architect's work uses to great advantage the generous proportions and refined details of the building. One of the large lecture rooms retains its original wooden chairs and high wood-beam ceilings, now refurbished, and includes as decorative reminders of the building's heritage apparatus used by the physics department over the course of the 20th century. But this lecture hall, and all of the classrooms in the original Palmer Hall, have now been outfitted with 21st century technological capabilities. There are high-speed computer connections throughout the building and students can connect to the University computer network from each place in each seminar room. The rooms also have data projection capability for "power-point" or other digital and video imaging.

The user-friendly advanced technology equipment is intended to encourage faculty to rethink how they teach. In this sense, invention is the mother of necessity, or, to modify a more recent adage, 'If you provide it, they will use it.' Professor of Politics Tali Mendelberg, teaching a seminar on "Deliberation and Cultural Conflict," incorporated a recording of a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. into a recent lecture. Professor Patricia Crain, who teaches "Children's Literature," was able more effectively to involve slides and videos in her course. To instruct faculty not only in how to use this equipment but most importantly in how to use information technology to enhance course material and the effectiveness of their teaching, the Office of Computing and Information Technology (CIT) and the Center for Teaching and Learning are developing "precepts" to familiarize faculty members with the equipment and its potential. For instance, at the request of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, CIT staff will conduct a training program for faculty this spring on incorporating information stored on laptop computers into their classes.

Classrooms on the south side of the old Palmer Hall look into a new wing for the campus center that is currently under construction. This glimpse into the future is a reminder of the range of activities that will be supported in the Frist Center. First, there will be a strong academic presence represented by the Center for Teaching and Learning, facilities associated with the departments of East Asian and Near Eastern Studies, the classrooms I described earlier, and Gest Oriental Library.

Second, the facility will house important campus and student life programs. The International Center, the Women's Center, and the Community Service Center will have a suite of office and meeting spaces in its south wing. Undergraduate and Graduate Student Governments and other student organizations will be located on the same level of the facility, and they will have access to communal work space, copying machines, and conference rooms. While the seminar rooms around the corner from the student organizations will be scheduled throughout the day for classes, the organizations will be able to reserve these spaces for a variety of purposes at other times-whether for meetings or rehearsals or as collaborative study space. A second large hall with an audience capacity of approximately 250, including new balcony seating, will be completed this spring and will be used for dance performances as well as films. A broad range of dining facilities, open almost 24 hours a day, and a multipurpose room provide new opportunities for student dining and for conferences and social gatherings.

With the addition of the new south wing, the footprint of the Frist Campus Center will resemble a square doughnut, providing easy circulation from one part of the building to another, and, we hope, easy connections among different aspects of University life and among various University groups. We believe that the opportunities offered by the Frist Campus Center will serve a large variety of needs for the entire campus community.

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