About 500 people -- alumni, friends, students and faculty at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University -- are taking part in the official grand opening of the Robert A. and Jan M. Beck Center addition to Statler Hall Thursday, Oct. 28.
Under construction since January 2003, the teaching addition to Statler Hall provides 35,000 square feet of new classrooms, meeting rooms and other learning space.
"The Beck Center defines our school's commitment to teaching excellence," said David Butler, dean of the Hotel School. "This superb facility ensures that our faculty are equipped with the best teaching technology, and that our students will continue to enjoy an engaging and effective learning experience."
The center is named for former Dean Robert Beck and his late wife, Jan. Beck himself will take part in the opening ceremony from 1 to 1:45 p.m. in the Alice Statler Auditorium, followed by a reception and tours of the new facility. Also involved will be President Jeffrey S. Lehman, Butler and others.
"It's a great facility. It has the latest in high technology, is user friendly, has great acoustics and is just a pleasure to teach in," said Neal Geller, the Robert Beck Professor at the Hotel School. Geller, who has been on the faculty since 1974, taught the first class in the new facility, Hospitality Financial Management, on Sept. 13. A former Hotel School graduate (Class of '64), Geller studied under Beck in addition to serving under him during his deanship.
The Beck Center's most striking feature is its three-story glass-curtained atrium. Facing Statler Drive and Barton Hall, the atrium offers dramatic balcony overlooks and a new courtyard entrance. When filled with students, faculty and visitors, the cascading open staircases and broad pedestrian interior "street" are intended to be a "moving mural" of activity in the school, which is considered the pre-eminent hospitality program in the nation.
"To be number one, you have to be first not only in students and faculty but also in your facility," said Kurt Zitzner, a senior who is managing director of the 80th annual Hotel Ezra Cornell, the showpiece student-run hotel for a weekend that takes place next spring. He says that the new center will give added cachet to the event, which yearly attracts top hospitality leaders from around the world.
"As the school has evolved and become a more business-oriented program, the pedagogy has changed," said Margaret Ferguson, associate dean for business administration. "The thrust of the new building is to provide case [study] classrooms and breakout areas so that students can work better in teams -- now an important part of the curriculum." The center adds such state-of-the-art classroom space as a lecture hall seating 140; three case study rooms, one of them fully equipped for distance learning; two classrooms; eight interview rooms for recruiters; two group study/meeting rooms; informal seating areas in the atrium, with campus views; an expanded computer center; and a dedicated hospitality suite to welcome visitors to the school.
More comfortable tiered seating and classroom display screens make a difference, say the students. "No matter where you are in the classrooms you have a view of the screens," said senior Ryan Munch. Garnie Nygren, a senior who is president of the Cornell Hotel Society, said: "Every classroom seat is hardwired for laptops and the whole building is wireless. It's a showcase for the school." Randall Allen, another senior, added, "It makes students feel like hospitality professionals."
The project also included the complete renovation of the 19,000 square-foot Alice Statler Auditorium, which serves the local and university communities in addition to the school and has long been the venue for the Statler concert series as well as non-Hotel School courses and lectures. This summer the auditorium vestibule was completely refigured, with a continuous bluestone floor extending to an overlook of Statler Hall's flag-bedecked west-side atrium. New windows cut into the walls of third-floor classrooms overlooking that atrium offer a balcony view of students at work in food laboratory classes.
Founded in 1922 as the first program of its kind, the Hotel School has grown and changed to become a management-oriented hospitality program engaged in research and teaching in areas encompassing accounting, finance, facilities, food and beverage management, hospitality law, information systems, managerial communication, marketing, operations, organizational behavior and real estate. It has 55 faculty and enrolls 800 undergraduate students and 100 master of management in hospitality students.
More than 450 people and organizations made financial contributions to the $16.2 million Beck Center project. The lead benefactor is the Atlantic Philanthropies. KSS Architects of Princeton, N.J. designed the center. The project was led by Christine Carstensen, project manager in Cornell's Planning, Design and Construction division.