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Marriott Foundation supports student learning center for the 21st century

atrium view of the Marriott Student Learning Center in Statler Hall

An atrium view of the Marriott Student Learning Center in Statler Hall, as rendered by design firm Woods Bagot.

Learning happens in physical, social and virtual spaces. With a $3 million lead gift from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, construction will soon begin for the Marriott Student Learning Center at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration (SHA), combining all of these components in what SHA Dean Michael Johnson describes as "one integrated space dedicated to how students learn today."

Scheduled to open in fall 2012, the learning center will unite the George B. Mallory '54 Student Lounge and the Nestlé Library. It will feature spaces for individual and group study as well as lounge areas for social interaction, and it will provide additional computer workstations and digitized library collections while maintaining library consultation services provided by resident librarians.

The gift – the largest received by SHA from the Marriott Foundation – represents a milestone in the more than 50-year relationship between the hotel school and the Marriott family.

Another crucial partnership helped pave the way for the center: the consolidation, begun in 2009, of the traditional library services of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, ILR School and SHA under the Martin P. Catherwood Library (located in ILR), creating the opportunity to re-envision 8,000 square feet of space within Statler Hall. "I think this is one of the best, concrete examples I've seen yet of not just finding a way to become more efficient, but finding a way to make something better through the 'Reimagining Cornell' process," Johnson says, referring to the university's strategic response to the economic downturn of 2008.

The center's design, which fosters collaboration, aligns with what Johnson describes as a "first-class undergraduate business education firmly grounded in the context of the hospitality industry." The dean explains: "SHA students need to be able to collaborate with other people, communicate effectively and access the latest technology. This environment is literally going to be built to facilitate the development of these skills."

Anukul Chandhok, a junior hotelie from India, agrees: "The hotel school is all about talking to people, knowing what's going on in the industry and knowing what your peers are up to. So if we have more such spaces where people are encouraged to participate, learning's going to be at another level."

Peter "Tripp" Plamondon III '15 has a special appreciation for the new student center: "I am a third-generation hotelie and fifth overall from my family, and the school has improved with each generation through these major enhancements to the building as well as the evolution of the curriculum." He adds: "The Marriotts are a great family, and the donation toward this new student center shows tremendous generosity on their part and on the part of the Marriott Foundation."

Apart from benefiting hotel school students, the Marriott Student Learning Center – along with SHA's campuswide programs such as the popular real estate minor – is expected to attract students from other colleges and schools. "If the Marriot Center can help us support activities where our students are working with students across campus in this new space, I couldn't be happier," Johnson says.

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