Sridhar Sundaram, dean of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Kate Tiedemann College of Business, says he and other university officials were recently touring the school’s brand new home, the Lynn Pippenger Hall, when he approached two awestruck students.
"They said, ‘We’re freshmen, walking around, we love the space, we love the building, I think we’re thinking of changing our majors,’" Sundaram said. "We said, ‘Well, we’d love for you to change the major, but still, even if you’re a biology major, you can still come and enjoy the experience here.”
The Hall opened for classes at the beginning of the semester earlier this month, but a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony formally welcomed the community to the four story, 68,000 square foot facility.
It’s named for longtime St. Pete resident, former Raymond James executive Lynn Pippenger, who donated $5 million to USFSP in 2016. A year earlier, she donated $10 million to the USF Muma College of Business in Tampa, which named its School of Accountancy after her. Pippenger attended both campuses before graduating in 1988.
Regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska says before the building opened, business students, faculty and staff were scattered across campus at seven different locations.
"It’s a dream come true, couldn’t be happier or prouder of this opening," Wisniewska said. "This will improve how students learn, how faculty teach and how the community engages with us, the possibilities are endless."
On the first three floors, Pippenger Hall has more than 20 classrooms and open meeting spaces, as well as a 200 seat auditorium.
Standing on a second floor landing, Sundaram pointed out how many of the break out spaces overlook the three story atrium that welcomes students to the Hall.
"They get the in-class experience, but when they come outside, they have the opportunity to sit down and work on their things," Sundaram said. "And if you look at the collaborative spaces, and you’ll see a lot of them, the idea is bringing up team projects, team experiences, there are facilities that allow them to do that."
On the fourth floor are faculty offices and a number of meeting rooms that Sundaram hopes local companies will use.
"My goal is to have companies come here, host events on careers and about various areas, so our students are able to meet them and find out what kind of career path they want to pursue," he said.
Marketing students will learn how focus groups work in a Consumer Insight Lab, and what would a business school be without a stock ticker? A multicolor digital display graces the atrium, directly underneath a second floor windowed computer lab where finance students will learn stock trading.
"We’re in a region that we have Raymond James, Franklin Templeton and other large financial services firms, so we want to make sure we have a strong finance program that will help us build the talent that will serve the community," Sundaram said. "They’ll have 24 terminals that will connect with the data, and we’ll have a real portfolio that our students will manage with the guidance of faculty, so the idea is to train our students and serve the needs, the talent needs of the community."
There are also 31 tables of different shapes and sizes scattered throughout the building crafted out of oak trees that once stood where the Hall now stands.
The one thing visitors notice almost wherever they go in the building is how much natural light permeates almost every room. USF St. Pete construction project manager James Grant says that was done deliberately.
"We found that the students and faculty functioned and were much more efficient in light, open airy spaces, and that’s what the architects tried to achieve here – a lot of glass, keep a lot of light coming in, it makes the spaces inside relate to the exterior," Grant said.
That exterior is unusual in that the windows are covered in circular designs from the ground floor to the roof.
"The circular patterning actually came from coral stone and other limestone that was used back in the Aztec day," Grant said.
But the modern touches are important as well.
In addition to 75 computers in two labs, comfortable chairs and benches scattered throughout the student areas are wired with USB charging ports. David Brodosi is Associate Director of Online Learning and Instructional Technology Services at USF St. Pete.
"We spent about the last three weeks just non-stop, 12 hours a day, hooking up computers, running network cables, running AV cables, testing all the systems so that everything was operational for the first day of classes," Brodosi said.
But, he added, it’s paid off.
"I’ve been here for 23 years and this is the most state of the art building we have on our campus," Brodosi said. "It’s also one of the most unique designed buildings; when you walk around campus, there isn’t another building that looks like this."
Lynn Pippenger Hall cost $30 million to build: $27 million in state money and the rest coming from school funds.