Advancing the Mission
How Do We Create a Vibrant Learning Environment? A Reflection by William Kling ’64, Trustee of Saint John’s University I knew little about colleges when I chose Saint John’s. But it turned out to be an excellent choice for the way in which it nurtured its students and helped me mature. I responded best when I found the subject material and teaching compelling. Today, I sometimes find myself in meetings where it seems that everyone in the room went to colleges like Stanford, Princeton or Harvard. They clearly had opportunities that my generation at Saint John’s did not. I also realize that I had opportunities that they probably did not—personal connections with faculty and a residential experience with other students who brought differing perspectives to the process of learning. But those who follow us—today’s and tomorrow’s students at Saint John’s—could experience many of the opportunities that come from strong teaching and effective learning that contributes to the reputations of the country’s elite schools—along with the additional advantage of creating personal connections with faculty and the residential experience. I’ve been visiting colleges around the country with my grandson, and the visits have been instructive. What we are seeing is a small group of strong, residential, liberal arts colleges, much like Saint John’s, where the students are engaged and the faculty enjoys a spirit of learning emerging from the students. But there’s a difference. Many of these colleges have embraced visionary design in their post-classroom facilities—design that provides comfortable, engaging spaces along with accessible technology, where faculty
and students teach and learn together beyond the formal classroom. This is the kind of facility Saint John’s needs to ensure its students of today can reach their full potential. As a Trustee and a potential donor to the Learning Commons, my question to Saint John’s was, “How are you planning to create that kind of vibrant learning environment on our own campus?” The answer explained a new vision for learning beyond the classroom. It begins with the physical reconfiguration of Alcuin Library as well as the building of a new facility. This re-envisioned building includes engaging learning spaces and technology to facilitate local and global connections. It will be the “Learning Commons.” Its vision calls for collaborative learning in a manner that, in my view, is ahead of its peers. And, more importantly, Saint John’s ongoing examination of what should go on inside such a facility—with an emphasis on learning in a variety of ways, to make it effective for all of the ways Saint John’s students learn—will help lead the way to the future of education for colleges like Saint John’s. My wife, Sally, and I were excited to make a gift to a facility that would serve students like I had been— those who respond best to challenging stimulation in an environment with eager peers and engaged faculty—a place where small groups of students can engage with each other, with faculty, and, using technology, tapping expertise throughout the world. The Learning Commons has that potential. I wish we’d built it 50 years ago.