Toronto: New George Brown campus wows students, faculty

The spacious interior and huge windows overlooking Lake Ontario wowed second-year nursing student Jennifer Tanney when she walked into George Brown College’s new waterfront campus in September.

“The aesthetics was the most profound thing. You’re looking out 30-foot windows onto the waterfront,” she told The Bulletin.


For Joseph Morgan, also in second-year nursing, it was the design that struck him. “The amazing architecture of this building—it’s pretty impressive. It’s really a beautiful campus.”


Downtown architects Stantec Architecture on Wellington St. W. and KPMB on King St. W. designed the building with lots of spaces where students can mingle and collaborate together outside the classroom. Even stairs have been widened so students can sit on them in small, informal study groups.


“The benefit is (if you think about what health is truly all about) it is team-based. Health is about a number of professions working together,” says Lorie Shekter-Wolfson, assistant vice-president of waterfront development and dean of community services and health sciences at the college.


“The important thing about this design is that we feel strongly that if you’re going to expect better team-based care, you’ve got to change the way you’re educating students from the outset,” says Shekter-Wolfson.


Students in one discipline will also learn what their peers are learning in other disciplines so they’ll have an overall appreciation of the broader aspect of health care.


Even in the classrooms there’s a certain amount of informality intended to foster collaboration. Desks and chairs aren’t in neat rows with the teacher at the front. Rather, they’re huddled together in small groups, and the teacher moves around to facilitate students’ discussions.


That’s also a way for these future health care workers to develop their soft skills and learn the give-and-take of getting along with others, a character trait that employers rate highly.


“Team-based learning is about listening to each other, about conflict resolution, about ethical decision-making. These aren’t hard-core technical skills. These are things that you can only learn by experiencing it,” says Shekter-Wolfson.


The faculty offices are designed much the same way. Rather than being sealed behind walls with doors, the staff works in doorless cubicles so it’s much easier for a colleague to “drop by” and have a discussion.


“The faculty offices have been designed to be more flexible and open to allow (them) to work together, collaborate on their course content, to be more innovative,” says Shekter-Wolfson.


“If faculty down the road think they need to be seated closer to another faculty working a project, the arrangement (re-adjustable cubicles) allows for that kind of flexibility,” she says.


The new campus can accommodate 3,500 full-time students and 450 continuous learning students. It houses four schools—dental health, health and wellness, health services management, and nursing.


In the past, says Sheckter-Wolfson, faculty departments were in different locations and staff would have to collaborate in the not-always-easy way of making phone calls. In the new campus they’re all in the same building “and you can have (discussions) happen much more readily.”


The public will also benefit from the campus that will provide limited health care such as in the hearing and dental departments to outpatients.


“The public can benefit from this space in a variety of ways. In a formal way they can register (with client services) and asked to be seen by any number of these professional groups if they meet the requirements for student learning,” says Shekter-Wolfson.


“We have an opportunity to not just be inward but for our students to reach outwards.”


That’s already happening with the Corus Entertainment building next door. Students have already worked with the health committee at Corus.


“We’re already working with them to support their learning and their needs in health care to make sure that their staff are well,” says Shekter-Wolfson.


College president Anne Sado says students are fitting in well at the new campus with its waterfront view and the new Sherbourne Common park on the east side. “All of the students, when they saw the building, were wowed by the learning environment they’ll have.”


Student Tanney says the campus has a relaxing atmosphere. “It’s more conducive to our kind of program which is really intensive (and) allows for those relaxation moments.”


Morgan finds the group study rooms helpful. “They’ve actually changed the way I study now."

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