UMR boosts presence downtown with addition of student lounge, innovation center

Authored By: dies0044 10/24/2021


The University of Minnesota Rochester has expanded its presence downtown with the opening of two new spaces along First Avenue Southwest. Both facilities are located in the 318 Commons building, which UMR also uses for student housing and classroom space. 

On the first floor, the University has repurposed the former Loop bar and restaurant space as a student lounge known as The Nest. The lounge offers students an accessible place to unwind with activities like pool, foosball, and ping pong.

One floor up, UMR has created a new Center for Learning Innovation, a space designed for collaboration among students and faculty. The space features abundant natural light and includes two Breathe® living walls. It is also home to UMR's faculty, JustASK, collaborative study spaces — and is intended to become the first WELL Certified renovation for the U of M System.

“The new Center for Learning Innovation allows for student, faculty and staff interaction with each other with greater awareness of ongoing work,” says Jered Bright, a member of UMR’s mathematics faculty. “While there are intentional spaces for collaboration, such as meeting rooms, the layout encourages spontaneous collaborative opportunities as it mixes public and private spaces.”

Xavier Prat-Resina, an associate professor of chemistry, says the combination of quiet space and common areas was a major consideration that went into the design of the workspace. Not only do students and faculty have space for reading and writing, they also have plenty of room for the type of random collisions that can lead to cross-disciplinary collaborations.

“A lot of our collaborations happen because of a common sense of belonging and a fair amount of serendipity,” shares Prat-Resina. “Sometimes collaborative ideas happen due to a random encounter; someone sees a paper left by another colleague, a scribble on a whiteboard left by students, or due to an overheard conversation between two colleagues that leads to something that was not planned, and therefore out of the box.”

“In other words,” he adds, “if collaboration is not spontaneous, if it requires an email and a calendar invite, that's too planned, too scripted, and it has too many roadblocks. We need some random encounters to realize how different our disciplines are and how much we can learn from each other.”

As a bonus, the spaces, both instructors note, makes UMR more visible to the rest of the community. Because the University does not have a “typical campus,” its presence can often be overlooked. The emergence of the two new facilities, however, challenges that perception.

“We remain deeply grateful for the City’s long-standing commitment to support the development of this campus,” said UMC Chancellor Lori Carrell. “UMR is a successful and growing university today given this community’s ongoing advocacy and we are excited to continue to bring vibrancy and student life to downtown Rochester.”

This story is included Med City Beat's October edition of On Campus.

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