Renaissance Rising

Artist's rendering of new USD Town Square, part of the new Learning Commons


The University of San Diego is in the midst of a Renaissance a new beginning, a fresh outlook and a glance toward the horizon and everything that lies ahead.

This is a transformation that is manifested by the way that professors are teaching and how students are learning in the wake of the global pandemic, COVID-19. It informs Envisioning 2024, a strategic plan that is helping USD prepare for the year it will celebrate its 75th anniversary. And it’s the inspiration behind USD’s Renaissance Plan, a plan for renovating some of our original and most cherished spaces on campus, as well as constructing new buildings to enhance the student experience.

The decisions made as part of today’s Renaissance Plan can be traced all the way back to the beginning — to the earliest moment’s in USD’s history.

One of the first things Mother Rosalie Clifton Hill did after accepting Bishop Charles Francis Buddy’s challenge to help establish what would become the University of San Diego, was to obtain books, noting that “books are always a first need for a college.”

Founders Hall was the first building completed on campus, followed by its architectural twin, Camino Hall, then Sacred Heart Hall, which connects the two.

That’s why today, renovating Founders Hall, Camino Hall and Sacred Heart Halls, renovating Copley Library and building a new academic space called the Learning Commons, are among the major goals of the Renaissance Plan — which allows USD to honor its past and look toward its future.

The Copley Library renovation, expected to be completed in Fall 2020, will provide places for active learning, teaching, collaboration and research, as well as spaces for classes, group projects, discussions, events and exhibits.

The renovation offers 38 small group study rooms, individual seating for 1,000 users, a lounge/reading room and five individual study spaces in the Camino Hall stacks. It will also feature expanded exhibit, gallery and display spaces, three new library instruction rooms, two seminar rooms and a presentation room, as well as a faculty reading room, a journal reading room and university archives and special collections. As one of the most beloved spaces on campus, the Mother Hill Reading Room will remain unchanged.

Homecoming and Family Weekend, scheduled from October 16 to 18, will be a time to celebrate the newest graduates from the Class of 2020, as well as a chance for alumni to return home to celebrate milestone reunions. It’s also the perfect opportunity for students, parents and alumni to name various study spaces in Copley Library — in honor of new graduates, professors, alumni or entire classes, past and present.

Located adjacent to Copley Library, the Renaissance Plans also made it possible to build the Learning Commons. Currently under construction, the two-story, 36,000 square-foot building also is expected to open in Fall 2020.

It gives students modern, flexible classrooms that feature updated room designs, the latest writing surfaces, cutting-edge technology that enhances collaborative learning experiences and furniture that can be moved, rearranged and reconfigured to better serve group dynamics and whatever activity, discussion, lesson or challenge is issued for the day.

The number of full-time students has grown by more than 1,200 — and that growth has far outpaced classroom space. The College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business need approximately 50,000 additional assignable square-feet of classroom spaces — 80 percent more space than they currently have.

That’s why the Learning Commons will feature nine collaborative study spaces and 13 classrooms — offering the flexibility faculty and students need for multidisciplinary instruction, seminars, small-group work and individual study at all hours of the day and night.

The Learning Commons will host classes, study groups, work teams, and solo exploration and innovation. It will also be home to some of USD’s most treasured programs, including the Honors Program and USD’s Writing Center.

At the heart of it all will be a creative and dynamic Town Square, an informal gathering space featuring stadium seating for up to 200 people, encircled by a second-story observation gallery and equipped with the latest in sound and video technology for presentations, films and other events.

All are invited to be a part of this Renaissance, as USD looks toward its 75th anniversary. Bishop Buddy once estimated it would take 100 years for USD to become what he called the Notre Dame of the West. Today, it seems certain it will take only 75. — Krystn Shrieve

Above photo: Artist rendering of the Learning Commons’ Town Square.

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