USG breaks ground on outdoor classroom project


Sanjali De Silva | Senior Staff Photographer

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Professor of Mathematics Robin Forman and USG members break ground on the outdoor classroom project.

The sunny weather in New Orleans often encourages professors to hold class outside. Next fall, they won’t have to worry about students picking at grass during their lectures.

To provide students with a structured outdoor learning space, Tulane Undergraduate Student Government commissioned the creation of an outdoor classroom on the Pearson Patio on the Academic Quadrangle between Tilton Memorial Hall and the Norman Mayer building.

“The idea behind building an outdoor classroom is to give a little more structure to that, to give the opportunity to professors to still present via the blackboard in such a way that having class outside doesn’t limit their teaching capacity and they can both enjoy the pleasantness of nature and being outside as well as still being able to teach at their greatest capacity as they would in an indoor classroom,” USG Director of Sustainability John Alexander said.

The groundbreaking ceremony for Tulane’s outdoor classroom was held on Feb. 23 and featured speeches from Alexander, Provost Robin Foreman and Tyler Margaretten, USG Vice President for Finance.

“This classroom is going to completely change the way the classroom dynamic works at Tulane for professors who want to have class outside on days that are beautiful,” Michael Morton, USG vice president for academic affairs, said.

In fall of 2016, Rebecca Evans, a USG A.B. Freeman School of Business senator, and Chesley McCarty, the former vice president of academic affairs, came up with the idea for an outdoor classroom. They approached a Tulane student organization that specializes in design thinking, Design for America.

Design for America began interviewing students, professors and others to determine the scope of the project. This process included finding out what people wanted, if it was wanted, researching other existing examples on college campuses across the country and determining a path for the project.

Student government positions transitioned at the beginning of the school year. Alexander became the director of sustainability and Morton took over for McCarty as USG vice president for academic affairs.

There was much discussion regarding different architectural components on campus throughout the 2017 Spring Semester. Alexander and McCarty spoke frequently with campus planning and its former architects, Amber Beezley and Christina Carlisle.

“They really developed the idea and gave it more of a physical being, which is what we didn’t have before,” Alexander said.

At the end of Spring 2017 and going into Fall 2017, the design was finalized, and the costs for the classroom were estimated at $99,000.

The design of the outdoor classroom is bench seating and tables for 20-30 students, which is the typical size of a small lecture class. In addition, it will include a blackboard in the front of the classroom.

“With the Academic Quad, there are a lot of issues with matching the look of it because it is the historic part of Tulane,” Alexander said. “So, it is going to be matched stone-wise and material-wise to the Academic Quad to really fit in with the ambiance of that area.”

USG worked to team up with the alumni association on this project. Throughout the second half of the semester, USG explored ideas to expand the project with the alumni association and looked into ways to unite the student body with the alumni to create a cross-generational effect at Tulane.

outdoor classroom
Sanjali De Silva | Senior Staff Photographer
USG President Sam Levin played a key role in the creation of the outdoor classroom.

After Margaretten authored legislation to fund the project, it allowed students to begin building the outdoor classroom in February.

“It has been a very quick process when you think about typical campus facilities projects, but it has really had a lot of effort all throughout,” Alexander said.

Through this project, which was completely student-run, students took ownership of the educational mission.

“Working with Chesley and now with Michael, I have been extraordinarily impressed by their commitment to the academic mission, and if you have only been here you don’t realize how rare that is for a student government to do this,”  Forman said.

The outdoor classroom should be completed by the end of the Spring 2018 Semester.

The outdoor classroom will provide a space for students to learn while enjoying the beautiful weather that living in New Orleans offers.

“On the student side, I know students like to go outside, I like to go outside, and I think having a more structured opportunity for that where professors are more likely to use it will just benefit the learning process so much because you will just be in a more comfortable learning environment,” Alexander said.

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