Friday, June 17, 2011

Philadelphia U. breaks ground on expansion

by Peter Key

"Philadelphia U. has broken ground on the building for a newly created college that will eventually be home to nearly half its undergraduate and graduate students.

The building will house the College of Design, Engineering and Commerce, which will include Philadelphia University’s School of Design and Engineering and its School of Business Administration.

The college is meant to give design, engineering and business students not only the skills they need to succeed in their own field, but also the ability to collaborate on projects with people in the college’s other two fields, something they will have to do at their jobs after they graduate.

“Instead of just learning to be a great engineer, you’re going to learn to be a great engineer in the total process, which we think means you’re going to be a better engineer, and a better designer and a better business person,” said Stephen Spinelli, who became the university’s president in September 2007.

The first class to enter the college will begin in the fall and consist of about half of Philadelphia University’s 600 incoming freshmen. If that continues, the college will wind up with half the university’s undergraduate enrollment, which was 3,000 this past school year, and likely half its graduate enrollment, which was more than 600.

The college was proposed in a strategic plan that was meant to guide Philadelphia University’s development from 2008 through 2013, but which Spinelli thinks will be influencing the university, which is located in Philadelphia’s East Falls section, for some time beyond that.

“I don’t see it as a five-year plan,” Spinelli said. “I see it as the basis for the future of the institution.”

The building that will house the college ties in to the portion of the plan that calls for the university to develop innovative facilities. Other parts of the plan call for the university to increase the amount of research done by its faculty and students and to add graduate and professional programs, among other things.

Both the college it spawned and the plan are meant to take Philadelphia University into the future while respecting its past.

The university was founded in 1884 to provide managers and workers who could help America’s textile factories compete with their overseas counterparts and its close ties with the businesses that employ its graduates have always been among its strengths. That emphasis on producing practically trained students has forced the school’s departments to collaborate with each other and the College of Design, Engineering and Commerce builds on that.

“Philadelphia University has been in a collaborative environment for a long time and this is just formalizing the levels of collaboration and bringing it to a more intense level,” Spinelli said.

The college’s new home is designed to enable the collaboration the college encourages, with storage space for students and flexible space for studios and seminars that can be reconfigured as needed. It also will have a two-story area for exhibits, presentations, lectures and social events.

The building is projected to cost $20 million, with the university covering half the cost itself and borrowing the rest. The university has raised $6.5 million of its $10 million portion, including a $5 million gift from an anonymous graduate. That money also is part of the nearly $29.5 million the university has raised towards a $40 million capital campaign that it began in January 2010 and announced in April.
When it opens in the spring of 2013, the building, which will have 38,500 square feet of space, will be the last of three major construction projects completed over about three years.

The first was the Center for Sustainability, Energy Efficiency and Design, a former gymnasium more recently used for storage space that was renovated for $4 million in a project that created 15,000 square feet of space when it was completed last September.
The second is a 20,000-square-foot dorm scheduled to be occupied when students return to Philadelphia University’s campus for the fall semester in August.
Both the SEED Center and the College of Design, Engineering and Commerce buildings consolidate functions that were scattered around the university’s campus.

“It gives us huge opportunities to reconfigure other space,” Spinelli said.

Although the college’s building won’t open until spring 2013, the college will launch its curriculum in fall. The curriculum was put together over the past two years in collaboration with businesses, which Spinelli said had an enthusiastic reaction to it.

The idea of integrating design, engineering and business is gaining fashion at colleges around the country.

Locally, the University of the Arts’ Corzo Center is trying to give the university’s students, alumni, and, in some cases the general public, the skills needed to turn their creative ideas into entrepreneurial ventures."

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