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Ideas / Research & Design / 7.20.2022

Design Insights for Student-Centered Campus Environments

Interior view of maker space at Arizona State University Hayden Library Reinvention.

A key leader in creating research-driven and student-centered learning environments, Shannon Dowling recently authored the new article, “Planning Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Campus Environments.” Published in Learning By Design, the exclusive magazine produced by the Association for Learning Environments in partnership with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Society of College and University Planning (SCUP), and the Association of University Interior Designers (AUID), Shannon’s article investigates how the physical environment of a campus influences students’ sense of belonging and their success.

Drawing on her experience as an instructor, as well as results from her research project as a SCUP Fellow, Shannon points out that though formal instructional time may be what first comes to mind when thinking about the higher education experience, it really only represents 7-10% of a student’s week. It follows, then, how important the physical aspects that make up the remaining percentages, both in classrooms and informal environments, are in shaping a student’s experience and their sense of belonging on campus.

Shannon writes:

“By centering students in my research on DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), I learned that students want to feel heard and valued. As designers, planners, and institutional representatives, we need to center students in conversations around their physical environments and reach out to them for feedback throughout the lifespan of our projects. Students’ needs are not all the same, and we cannot make one-size-fits-all decisions about their physical space. But at a time when so many decisions feel big and new, giving students simple choices that they can control — sitting or standing, hard or soft seat, alone or together — allows them to customize the environment to their comfort level.”

Read the full article.

Shannon Dowling is an architect, space analyst, and educator who focuses on creating research-driven and student-centered learning environments and an Associate Principal at Ayers Saint Gross. She recently completed a yearlong fellowship with the Society of College and University Planning (SCUP), in which she studied the role campus spaces can play in helping colleges and universities become more equitable and inclusive.

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