Board votes to continue planning for learning commons

The Northwestern College Board of Trustees, meeting on campus April 4–5, approved continuing with planning for the next campus addition, a new learning commons.

Architects from Cannon Moss Brygger and Associates (CMBA) of Sioux City, Iowa, and Grand Island, Neb., and The Durrant Group of Dubuque, Iowa, have been working on the facility’s schematic design phase since January. Board members authorized moving on to the design development phase, which will culminate in a presentation at the Board of Trustees meeting in October.

The learning commons will house a new library and archives, computing services center, writing center, classrooms, auditorium, prayer room and coffee shop. The 74,000-square-foot facility has an estimated cost of $19.9 million.

“Board members responded very positively to the work done by our architects,” says President Bruce Murphy. “They were impressed with the ‘God is Light’ theme of the building, tying into Northwestern’s historic motto, and the related efforts that have been made to get light into all areas of the structure. And they liked the many different kinds of student spaces—both formal and informal, for individuals and groups—that have been planned for the learning commons.”

The board also voted to approve launching a $30 million capital fund-raising campaign, with a timeline yet to be established, featuring the learning commons project as its centerpiece. The campaign also seeks to raise $3 million for the first phase of renovations to the Rowenhorst Student Center, $5 million for academic innovations and $2 million for endowed student scholarships.

A portion of the academic funds will be used to strengthen the communication studies program, including upgrading its facilities, and to create new classrooms and faculty offices in Ramaker Library and part of Van Peursem Hall that will be vacated following the completion of the learning commons. Money raised through the campaign also will be used to create two new endowed faculty chairs and a faculty sabbatical fund, and to explore establishing new programs to meet student interest in a number of medical fields.

“We have a highly regarded natural science program, with a strong record of pre-med students, and we want to see if we can expand that to meet the burgeoning need for professionals in many areas of health care,” says Murphy.

The campaign funds for student scholarships will be used to make it easier for ethnically diverse students and those from outside the Midwest to afford a Northwestern education. “We are really serious about trying to open our students to the world and invite a more ethnically diverse student population to study here,” says Murphy. “It’s an essential component of a high-quality academic program in the 21st century.”

As part of the board meeting, Northwestern’s Multiethnic Resource Team presented a report summarizing the efforts to draw more ethnic minority students to campus and to send more students overseas. Currently about 65 ethnic minority students are enrolled—about half of whom are international students. Sixty students are studying abroad this year, nearly double the number that studied abroad five years ago.

President Murphy described as a highlight a session in which the nine recently promoted faculty each spoke briefly on such topics as how they integrate their faith in the classroom or in their research and what they expect from students. “It was a very moving presentation—there wasn’t a dry eye in the house—as the faculty spoke honestly and eloquently about their experiences at Northwestern. It really put flesh on the bones of this theory of the integration of faith and learning and showed board members the heart of the college.”

Recognition was given to two retiring board members: the Rev. Dr. Ray Tilstra of Pella, who served eight years, and Dave Hughes of Orange City, who served two years in his capacity as president of the National Alumni Board. The board also welcomed incoming Vice President for Academic Affairs Jasper Lesage during a session and publicly thanked Kim Case and Eric Elder for their efforts as interim dean of student development and interim vice president for academic affairs, respectively.