by Hillary Straba
Over the past few months, there have been numerous changes made to the VSU campus—new retainer gardens, flowering shrubs, art installations— but perhaps the most misunderstood addition to the campus has been the outdoor classroom behind West Hall.
Completed in August, the outdoor classroom is one of the larger improvements scheduled to take place on campus, costing around $45,000 to construct.
Brett Ganas, assistant director of landscape and grounds at VSU and designer of the outdoor classroom, said that it was a response to a faculty request for an outdoor area in which to hold class sessions.
Dr. Ari Santas, professor of philosophy and religious studies, is the faculty member who suggested the addition during a campus beautification sub-committee meeting, but he said he was not the first faculty member to mention it.
“I’ve always liked to take my classes outside, yet even though VSU has a beautiful campus, there are not many places where one can take one’s classes where everyone can sit and discuss,” Santos said. “When Mr. Ganas was meeting with our committee upon taking over the position as head groundskeeper, I mentioned to him how nice it would be to incorporate outdoor classrooms into the landscape planning.”
Previously, the area behind West Hall was, as Ganas puts it, a “no-man’s land”—an area where students cut through, forming a visible trail in the grass from the constant foot traffic.
This unattractive trail inspired Ganas to convert the area into something that was both beautiful and useful, and the suggestion made by Santas was one way to accomplish that.
“The outdoor classroom will provide faculty and students with an alternative to traditional indoor study,” Ganas said. “It will be surrounded by trees with lots of color and landscape.”
To many students, the lightly-colored cement semi-circle looks like nothing more than another seating area for students to take a break between classes.
“It looks like all the other architecture around VSU to me,” Dillon Swilley, junior middle grade education major, said.
Another student said that the new space looks like a smoking area (this is perhaps due to the large cement ashtrays located near the space).
Some students appeared surprised to learn what the space was intended to be.
“I think it’s a great idea; however, I cannot figure out how on earth it’s a classroom,” Sarah Caldwell, junior psychology major, said.
The space does not immediately invoke the idea of a classroom because it lacks proper seating and other classroom elements, so it easy to see how it could be misinterpreted.
According to Santas, students are meant to sit on the wall-like seating that creates the back edge of the semi-circle, and the instructor is meant to stand in the middle of the semi-circle.
The outdoor classroom is one of many that Santas would like to see on campus in the future. He would like to see more strategically placed classrooms around campus, with the contractors and faculty members working together to ensure the space meets their specific academic needs depending on the subject of study.
For example, for a biology class studying botany, the outdoor classroom would ideally be located in a more secluded, natural setting.
Santas said that the existing outdoor classroom works well to meet his needs, but that its use should not be limited to holding classes.
“It can be more of a multi-use space,” Santas said.
To this point, no professor has yet reserved the space, which is open to anyone who wishes to use it. Like any other classroom on campus, groups must contact Event Services in order to reserve it.
Santas said he feels the classroom in its present form is “a nice start.” He also said he would like to see more landscaping but that the space is great way to break out of the “dark cave of a classroom.”
(Photos by: Ritsuki Miyazaki)