Jeff Little notes that while the focus of Excelsior has been the construction and renovation of campus facilities, those projects are inseparable from Hamilton's academic mission. "I was even more convinced of this at the recent trustee meetings, when we were given a tour of the new Kirner-Johnson Building," he says. "The technology and improvements are so different from the learning environment that I experienced when I was at Hamilton. It's the technology that the professors are able to teach with; it's the layout of the classrooms, which is much more interactive."
Baker has seen this evolution from several sides — as a student, as an active alumnus and the current chair of the Annual Fund, and now as a distinguished lecturer in government. He too underscores the relationship between the learning experience and the environment in which it takes place. "The essentials of good teaching are timeless, but that is not to say the techniques of good teaching do not evolve and improve over time," Baker says. "In many ways these techniques involve improved or newly invented technologies that take learning to a whole new level of possibility — whether in the sciences or the liberal arts. By and large, the construction of facilities at Hamilton has been governed by a strong notion that these new facilities should materially enhance, broaden and intensify the student's learning experience."
That's not a coincidence, says Christophre Georges, professor of economics, who directed faculty planning for KJ early in the renovation process. "The reality of Phase One of the new KJ has turned out to be remarkably close to what we hoped to accomplish," he says. "The on-campus building committee spent a great deal of time determining what functions we wanted the building to provide and how specific program elements could serve those functions. We also traveled to other campuses to learn from the successes and mistakes made by other schools in recent academic building projects."
And the importance of state of-the-art facilities does not end at the classroom door. Dave Thompson, director of the Blood Fitness and Dance Center and campus wellness, points out that the center, opened as the campaign reached its midpoint, has fostered a new interest in and commitment to healthy living on campus. "Happiness, performance and quality of life on the Hill are surely tied to the level of our collective health," he says, noting that more than 300 users pass through on an average weekday and "visitors are consistently wowed."Over two years, Thompson says, the center "has become exactly what we'd hoped — the focal point for fitness and wellness on campus."
The campus makeover underwritten by Excelsior is not complete, of course. A record $10 million gift from Wendy and Keith '50 Wellin and a $2.5 million gift from Eugene Romano '49, both dedicated to facets of a new arts complex, will eventually serve the arts at Hamilton in much the way that the Science Center and the expanded Kirner-Johnson now serve the sciences and social sciences. "I believe in putting the 'arts' into liberal arts," Keith Wellin said on the occasion of the Wellins' gift.
Professor of Music Sam Pellman, faculty coordinator for the planning of arts facilities, notes that "student interest in arts courses and activities is as high as or higher than ever," but that "our arts faculty and their students continue to struggle with spaces that simply weren't designed for the programs that we currently offer and those we hope to offer in the future." As in many fields, technology that encourages collaboration is a key to tomorrow, he says: "In particular, the proposed Studio for Transmedia Arts and Related Studies will provide the place and the resources for artists, musicians, dancers, designers and other faculty and students in a broad range of disciplines to work together."
Hoogkamp '82 adds that such facilities are also critically important to the College's appeal. "At the end of the day, if we want the best students in the country and the world," he says, "places like KJ, the Siuda House and the Fitness Center help us compete."