Students studying in groups and independently in the Learning Commons at the Community College of Philadelphia

Adaptations in Higher Education

At HDR, we believe one of the best ways to learn is from experience — either our own or another's. We embrace the opportunity to share what we have learned from our projects and the practitioners and academics from institutions with whom we collaborate worldwide. We strive to highlight innovative teaching methods and make space for a broader dialogue about the intricacies of working in higher education.

Adaptations is a series of in-person and virtual interviews with educators and administrators representing diverse backgrounds and disciplines. These interviews examine how academic institutions adapt to the ever-changing higher education landscape and how the built environment helps or hinders them in that effort.

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We help make academic visions come to life through strategic facilities planning, the design of new classroom and laboratory buildings and renovations that modernize facilities.

Recent Adaptations

Who are they? What’s driving their enrollment? And how can institutions and designers support their success? HDR Education Director Leila Kamal answers these questions and more.

Institutions Featured
Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science; Nan Tien Institute; University of San Diego; University of Nebraska

How can we promote wellness on campus? Care teams, wellness-oriented living communities and faculty training are three of 10 ideas panelists share in this article authored by Leila Kamal. 

Institutions Featured
Dalhousie University; Nebraska Wesleyan University; Capilano University; Stevens Institute of Technology

We collected insights from panelists and design inspiration from our portfolio based on what the conversation revealed today’s students need the most: in-person connectivity, interprofessional learning and wellness-driven programs. 

Institutions Featured
Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland; UNMC College of Nursing; University of Sciences in Philadelphia

Community College of Philadelphia: The Evolution of Academic Libraries

What does it mean to design a library for students? For CCP, it meant reimagining its existing facilities to meet the needs of its diverse commuter student population. Panelists reflect on how, as a result, the role of the academic librarian is evolving, the appeal of physical learning materials is growing, and the overall impact libraries make on students' views of the world is undeniable. 

CCP's revitalized Library and Learning Commons is the spot to be on campus, and that's by design. Panelists reveal strategies adopted to ensure the design prioritized students, like downsizing collections to maximize collaboration and independent study space and leveraging glass-enclosed stacks to secure books and maintain access to library facilities outside staffed hours.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln: Creating Something New

Designing the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts was a journey of collaboration and vision. Megan Elliott, the founding director, shares insights into the creation process, detailing how the program’s design and space synergize to foster innovation and creativity.

The architectural narrative of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts is one of inspiration and connectivity. Megan Elliott discusses the center’s unique design as a nexus for students, the community and the broader UNL campus to foster a dynamic educational environment.

Brescia University College: Campus Change & Food Science Education

Marianne Simm, vice principal of students at Brescia University College, delves into the changes she sees on campus and across the broader higher education landscape. Explore her perspective on what leadership means to Brescia, how academic institutions adjust to lifelong learning and new student pathways and the inherent benefits and challenges of collaboration with the industry and other institutions. 

Dr. Colleen O'Connor, associate professor and undergraduate coordinator for nutrition and dietetics in Brescia's School of Food & Nutritional Science, reflects on her experience with food science education and research over the years. She shares her perspective on the shift to active learning, the importance of industry engagement and interdisciplinary collaboration in today's educational landscape, and the value of current trends such as "science on display" that are prominent in the new Academic Pavilion

Houston Community College: Preparing the Student Body

Dr. Phillip Nicotera and Jeff Gricar of Houston Community College discuss the pivotal role of post-secondary education in equipping students for the workforce. They shed light on HCC’s innovative approaches to student engagement, job preparation and delivering exceptional educational experiences.

HCC's Coleman College for Health Sciences is evolving to meet the demands of a changing healthcare system. Dr. Nicotera and Dean Gricar explore the dynamic evolution of allied health programs, emphasizing the critical role of community colleges in shaping the allied health workforce in the United States.

Bellevue University: Balancing In-Person & Virtual Learning

Professor John Kyndt of Bellevue University discusses the process for designing a new type of teaching lab that meets the evolving needs of undergraduate science education. The conversation delves into the emerging role of inquiry-based learning and its influence in creating a "science, research and demonstration" lab as part of the Bellevue Lab renovations

Professor Kyndt's hybrid course fuses traditional and digital learning spaces. Throughout the conversation, he shares observations on students' need to be digitally connected within physical environments, the ins and outs of running a successful hybrid course, and how the extent to which physical environments embody quality design impacts the success of virtual learning experiences. 

Campus Sustainability: Where We Go From Here

In August 2021, HDR hosted three university facilities and sustainability leaders from three different countries in a Virtual Adaptations panel to discuss the growth, strategies and challenges of sustainability efforts on their respective campuses and in higher education. Their thoughtful insights shed light on a topic that has risen to the forefront of university issues as climate change becomes an ever-increasing reality.

Institutions Featured
Trinity College, University of Dublin; University of Toronto; Iowa State University

Trinity University Stock Photo

Adapting Through the Pandemic

Conducted in August 2020, this virtual panel examines how academic institutions in the U.S. and Canada have leveraged virtual learning to address new obstacles. Panelists discuss the challenges of in-person lectures, hybrid courses and space requirements for different learning modes. 

Institutions Featured
University of Maryland; Penn State; Bellevue University; University of Ottawa

Conducted in August 2020, this virtual panel discusses the evolution of town-gown relationships throughout the pandemic — specifically how the short and long-term needs of universities, colleges and the towns they are located in have fundamentally shifted.

Institutions Featured
Caltech; Western University; University of Maryland

Conducted in July 2020, this virtual panel discusses how public health guidance impacted the "return to campus" for institutions in the U.S. and Canada, emphasizing leaders' thoughts on what it means to create meaningful and safe student experiences to meet the current moment. 

Institutions Featured
University of California; University of Texas at Austin; Western University; Queens University