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Move shines light on USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications

By C. Grant Jackson

Photography by Rion Rizzo

When the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications moved up the hill from the Carolina Coliseum to the renovated former Health Sciences Building, Van Kornegay had “Movin’ on Up,” the theme song from The Jeffersons TV show, playing in his mind.

The associate professor and visual communications sequence head used a drone to shoot a video of the move and added the song as a sound track. “I think we have moved up, and I do really see more positive attitudes, a certain optimism about the direction of things being in the center of campus,” he says.

Journalism, which is part of USC’s College of Information and Communications, had been in the Coliseum basement since 1969. The physical move in August 2015 to the building at Greene and Sumter streets in the Historic Horseshoe District was a move literally into the light from the darkened, cave-like basement atmosphere.

The Boudreaux Group architects created a 54,000-square-foot building that nearly doubled the school’s space to house approximately 1,500 undergraduates and 50 graduate students. The cost of the project was budgeted at $18 million. Boudreaux architect Karen Quinn mixed aspects of the historic building, erected in 1962, with new construction, technology and design to create spaces to train communicators for the 21st century. “For us, the true beauty of this building was the marriage of the old and new,” she says.

That marriage is best exemplified by the two-story atrium created in the building’s new addition which surrounds the “U” space that was enclosed by the original building’s two wings. The focus of the atrium is the multi-panel media tower consisting of two components, one suspended from the ceiling and the other a kiosk on the floor, that displays the work of students and provides access to global media. The atrium creates a synergy between having the new technology inserted with the backdrop of the historic building and the restored brick with windows in the background.

The Boudreaux Group also used the atrium and the addition to reorient the building from the front Sumter Street entrances, which were little used, and created a new primary entrance off of the courtyard that is positioned toward the Horseshoe and main campus.

“We wanted to create this space in the atrium to unify the floor plan and for students and faculty to gather between classes and help foster a sense of collaboration. They really didn’t have a space like this in the old building,” Karen says.

One of the primary tasks for the renovation was to create a collaborative learning environment with lots of light. In stark contrast to the Coliseum basement, which had the feel of a cocoon, the faculty and administration wanted natural light to give the building an open feel. “You’d go in there in the morning, come out at night and if there could have been a nuclear explosion, you wouldn’t have known about it,” says Van. “It was insular. That was the feel of it.”

The renovation uses lots of glass in the classrooms and public spaces to create a true collaborative learning space. “You can watch people learning. You can watch people doing the broadcast news report in the broadcast studio,” Karen says.

Training Journalists for the 21st Century

“The building enhances the ability to train communicators for the 21st century,” says Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Information and Communications. The building also houses the administrative offices of the college, which includes the School of Library and Information Science.

The School of Journalism and Mass Communications offers a broad program that is focused not only on journalism, but also includes advertising, public relations and mass communications theory. The school emphasizes the importance of communications across all spectrums. “It sounds like a textbook, but I really believe that’s the case,” says Charles. “There isn’t anything we live with today that doesn’t, in some way, have a communications component.”

Communications plays a role in cross connections. For example, the school teaches a course in the College of Engineering to help engineers communicate better. “If you need to make a presentation to the boss or the board, you better have some skills to do it, and often we see those things lacking,” Charles says. Communications is pervasive, and the school tries to ensure that students leave with a skill set that can be applied in many different ways.

Students who come to the School of Journalism and Mass Communications have a desire to tell stories, and the faculty has a desire to help them do that across multiple platforms. “I want to make you an effective communicator regardless of the platform,” Charles says. “Journalism to me is as enticing as it ever was because there are more ways to tell stories, and there are more of us doing it. I don’t buy into this notion that journalism is dying. It is just being practiced in so many different ways across a broader spectrum,” concludes the former CNN political correspondent.

According to Dr. Andrea Tanner, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, the basics remain the same. While there is a lot of focus on the changing technology, it boils down to the facts and a focus on writing, whether it is a broadcast journalist or a traditional print journalist. “It all comes down to writing and research,” she says.

What has changed with the technology is the blurring of those traditional journalism boundaries of print and broadcast. “We are bringing them together. It is not separate print and broadcast classes. Classes are together. Down in our multimedia newsroom, they are turning content across platforms,” Andrea says. 

Facilities like the multimedia newsroom were designed exactly to facilitate learning, teaching and collaboration across the broad spectrum of communications. The school is training across multiple platforms and providing graduates the tools to operate across them.

The new building provides faculty and students many ways to enhance that learning experience, from the multiplicity of screens throughout to the unique collaborative spaces like the green rooftop garden atop the new addition, to the outdoor patios and the new Kennedy Greenhouse Studio.

The Greenhouse Studio, in the former rose garden turned patio adjacent to the building, is similar to the street level studios seen on morning news programs. The studio can not only offer experience to students, but the dean also hopes it will be used by newsmakers coming to Columbia and university officials, like President Harris Pastides. 

The studio, which was built on the site of a former greenhouse, was made possible through a $1.5 million donation given by Lou Kennedy, a 1984 alumna of the school and president and CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals.

Other alumni and media companies have donated to help pay for studios, conference rooms, classrooms, offices and other spaces throughout the renovated building.

The building was designed for collaboration among students as well as between students and faculty. Faculty officers were distributed on all three floors to encourage greater interaction.

An auditorium, which the school did not have in the Coliseum, will allow large freshmen classes to meet. Before the move, those classes had to meet in other buildings.

Technology abounds throughout the buildings. Electronic screens are everywhere and classroom technology allows faculty to stream video and view live broadcasts.

Spaces Created to Foster Collaboration

The technology blends with the creation of the unique collaborative spaces, especially outside the building on the patio along Sumter Street, in the former rose garden where the brick walls have been lowered to open up a visual courtyard space, and in the rooftop garden atop the new addition. The rose garden itself is still there as well as the adjacent Norma Palms Garden. Together, the greenhouse studio and gardens create a new visual feature for the Horseshoe area.

The rooftop garden is a contributing factor in the university’s quest to have the building LEED certified. The renovated building officially received LEED Gold certification early January. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a certification program of the U.S. Green Building Council that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices.

The rooftop garden has even attracted students who are not in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications but learned about it from other students. “They want to be here. The students are everywhere. They’re at every table. We’ve created this atmosphere where they want to be. They want to study here, out on the patio, up on the rooftop garden, on every level,” Andrea says.

Van, the visual communicator, says he used to believe that it was about the quality of work that goes on in the space and not necessarily the environment. “I did not put a lot of credence in needing a beautiful building to do good work. But this building has changed my mind.” He now sees students lounging around the building, studying in groups out on the patios and in the various lounge areas. “I think that does create collaboration — teamwork. You have so much more of an incubator feel here than you had down in the Coliseum,” he says.

Charles says the building has given the school visibility. “In the Coliseum, we were invisible. People didn’t even know that there was a School of Journalism and Mass Communications.” Campus tours walking by will now certainly know that the building is the home of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, thanks to a huge banner at the corner of Greene and Sumter streets. And the rest of the University will know it too.

Charles says the building will also help the school recruit students and faculty. “We do a fair amount of ‘retail recruiting,’” he says. “If we see people walking through the building, we’re not shy people, we’re journalists.”

Andrea says that the building has become a destination. “At events held this past fall, parents and students would come into the building, look around and stay,” she says. “They were interested in the building. By contrast, at the Coliseum few people came by. If they did come in, they would usually leave fairly quickly. Because we are in the middle of campus, we are now a destination.”

The building does create a special atmosphere. “Having light coming through the windows raises people’s spirits,” says Charles. “It is uplifting in that regard. All of the students and faculty come in with a bounce in their step. After one semester, I see it and feel it. It is hard to put a finger on it, but it has definitely created a better teaching and learning environment.”

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