Auburn nursing faculty design new building to meet educational needs, increased enrollment

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The new building for the Auburn University School of Nursing will be large enough to accommodate more students and faculty than the school currently has, and its design will offer the ideal environment for preparing students for health care practice now and in the future.

Miller Hall has housed the School of Nursing since Auburn began offering a bachelor's degree in nursing in 1979. The Harrison School of Pharmacy occupied part of the building as well until 2009.

As undergraduate enrollment increased year after year, the School of Nursing simply outgrew Miller Hall. Currently, it only houses faculty and administrative offices, and skills and simulation labs. Students must attend classes across campus, including Haley Center and Cary Hall.

"If we were to stay in this building two more years, faculty would be doubling up in offices," said Dean Gregg Newschwander. "It's bad enough sending our students all over campus; we don't want our faculty strewn about either."

A new 89,000-square-foot building – located on the southwest corner of South Donahue Drive and Lem Morrison Drive – will offer space to accommodate cohorts of up to 160 undergraduate students and 40 faculty members.

"We had to get out of thinking 'this is how we've always done it,'" said Jean Dubois, clinical professor and director of outreach for the school. "We had to think far beyond the near future. We're designing a building for now and years from now."

Newschwander said it was a challenge to anticipate, to even fathom, what it would be like to provide instruction to 120, 140 and 160 students, whether it be five years from now or 30.

"We won't have 160 people in a classroom now, but someday, we will," he said.

"Some offices have place holders because the people who fill them don't exist yet," added Dubois. "They may not exist for a while, but conceptually, this is where we think nursing is going at Auburn University."

Newschwander, Dubois, Assistant Professor Caralise Hunt, Business Manager Linda Watkins, and Assistant Clinical Professor Karol Renfroe have been working with the architects, Stacy Norman Architects of Auburn and Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore, Maryland, for more than a year now to ensure every space – classrooms, labs, offices and areas for meetings, studying and relaxing – would be designed to maximize the educational experience.

"Learning spaces are functional and diverse. Each space is meant to enhance learning by utilizing various teaching and learning methods," explained Hunt. "The new building will have two lecture-style classrooms and one active learning classroom. The lecture halls can be used for traditional lecture, as well as collaborative learning and group work space like the active learning classroom.

"The active learning classroom is designed to allow students to engage in collaborative learning with faculty serving as a facilitator. It will be technologically rich in order for this type of teaching/learning to occur."

"The old way of teaching was to bombard students with facts that they memorized and repeated back on a test, but we're done with that style of teaching," added Newschwander.

"The paradigm has shifted to active learning – to the flipped classroom – where students process the information, rather than just memorizing it. Faculty can lecture if they want, but they need to have options.

"It is all about moving nursing content from simple to complex, individual to populations, and our current classroom spaces make this style of teaching difficult."

Spaces for the simulation lab and skills lab, which together exceed the square footage of Miller Hall, were designed to allow for optimal student learning outcomes. The labs were purposely located on the same wing of different floors to be efficient for students and faculty.

"The skills lab will allow for student instruction, practice and evaluation of essential nursing skills," said Renfroe. "Simulation space will be used to replicate clinical situations that students will face in daily practice. The goal is to provide realistic situations in order to increase student confidence, decrease errors and promote quality and safety in nursing clinical practice."

Faculty offices are also on the same wing of two floors, as an efficient means for students to interact with faculty. A private access between floors will facilitate increased communication and collaboration among faculty.

"It will help the students get to know more of the faculty," said Newschwander. "And it will help the students get to know me better."

The dean has begun hosting pizza parties with each cohort, so he has at least one chance to meet each student.

"It's not a good thing for them to meet me for the first time when they shake my hand on the stage (at graduation)," Newschwander said.

A large commons area is a crucial part of the new building as the space – 90 feet long and three floors high – will hopefully foster a sense of community, where students and faculty can interact outside the classroom. Considering the rigors and demands of the nursing program, Newschwander and others wanted to include dedicated spaces, like the commons area, specifically for students who will be spending all day in this building.

"When students aren't in class, some will want to go study and some will want to just hang out," said Hunt. "We needed to meet all those needs."

A number of spaces in the new building will have multiple purposes or be large enough to accommodate collaborations with undergraduate and graduate students, as well as students from other disciplines.

The active learning classroom, for instance, will have the ability to open up into the commons area, which can be opened to an outside courtyard for events. Additional space in the simulation lab will allow nursing students to practice alongside students from the pharmacy school and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, or VCOM, in a mock hospital setting.

Not only will nursing be a neighbor to VCOM's Auburn campus, but pharmacy is adding a pharmaceutical research building next to nursing in the near future. Auburn has dubbed the corner as its Health Sciences Sector.

"We deliberately planned spaces for our students, as well as for interdisciplinary collaborations," explained Dubois. "On most hospital units now, you have a pharmacist, hospitalist and nurse on site together. This gives us the flexibility to provide that practice for our students and their students."

For graduate students on the Primary Care Nurse Practitioner track, a designated area in the simulation lab will function like the exam rooms of a clinic with patients. Dubois said these standardized patient rooms will allow nurse practitioner students to rehearse an actual patient encounter and, through faculty feedback, make improvements in individual practice.

As the cornerstone of the Health Sciences Sector, the new home for the School of Nursing will represent state-of-the-art teaching and learning, and will complement all that Auburn has to offer in recruiting and retaining the best and brightest students and faculty.

"So many companies and hospitals already praise the Auburn graduates they hire," said Newschwander. "This is going to make us more competitive than we've ever been before, and it will help make our graduates even better prepared to enter a challenging and complex workforce."

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Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.