Earlier this month, speaking to 329 members of the Owen Graduate School of Business Class of 2017, Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman recalled the recent past. A ‘93 Owen alum, Friedman fondly remembered her time as a student, dropping references to AOL floppy disks, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Meatloaf’s biggest hits. Beyond Friedman’s nostalgic flair, her commencement speech also emphasized how important innovation will be for Owen’s new MBAs.
As the Class of ‘17 graduates ready to forge their paths, the school is shaping its own future in a vibrant way. Just in time for commencement, the business school officially completed the newly renovated H. Laird Smith Courtyard. The changes may appear to be solely physical, but a reinvigorated Nashville campus expands what current and future students can do together.
A collaboration among the campus planning department, the Owen Student Government Association (OSGA), and university landscape architect Robert Waits, the $100,000 renovation project—courtesy of the Henry Laird Smith Foundation—was designed with student interests in mind. Matthew Brown, vice president of operations for the OSGA, spoke about his role in the project.
“My committee and I were invited by Dean [M. Eric] Johnson and his administration to represent our classmates by providing input regarding the needs and desires for the courtyard as well as provide feedback on designs presented by Owen’s architects,” Brown said in an interview. “We specifically spent time asking classmates their opinions to gather a general consensus for the direction of the project. We found that students loved the courtyard, but it has long needed to be more functional for studying and hosting events, needed to be more easily accessible from the lobby, and needed fresh landscaping. We are fortunate to have dedicated alumni such as the Smith family who continue to give back to our community and enable us to make these much needed improvements.”
The revitalization of the area was done with nature in mind, Brown continues. “One of the most appealing aspects of Nashville is the outdoor nature of the city.” The campus itself features a centralized arboretum with more than 6,000 different kinds of trees and other types of flora. The courtyard within works as an extension of the naturalist surrounding.
“The courtyard,” he adds, “is a natural extension of the physical space at Owen for students to enjoy the natural beauty of the outdoors. Improving this space will only add more access to opportunities for outdoor studying, meeting, and social events particularly underneath the colors of the fall foliage or the sun of the warm spring afternoons.”
There’s structural unity to the idea of working and studying outdoors, flipping the traditional university indoor-only setting. Over the past several years, studies have found significant improvements in learning habits and test scores when students utilize mixed indoor and outdoor study environments. In addition to bolstering academic performance, the prevailing hope is that this new space will also foster a community identity at Owen.
“Projects such as these,” Brown continues, “happen only once every decade or so, and getting the design right is very important as it has the potential to improve the quality of student life which in turn drives a better community.”
Owen has other community-building initiatives in the works. Through a significant alumni gift, the school is also renovating the Walker Management Library, which Brown also worked on with the Owen administration. The transformation of the 35-year-old building incorporates many of the same open-space concepts as the courtyard. The first floor features a subdued, yet large fireplace, bringing naturalist and community concepts into full view, while the overall structure of the building will be minimally altered to reduce noise. The library is set to reopen this fall.
On the news of the library renovation, Dean Johnson spoke about the collaborative community he hopes to continue building, stating in a press release, “This major renovation will transform the library into a hub of discovery and collaboration. As a focal place for gatherings big and small, the library will take on a new role within the Owen community.
The bright, vibrant Owen community was on full display with the unveiling of the H. Laird Smith Courtyard, with students, faculty, and staff coming together just days before the official Owen commencement. Those in attendance were treated to a literal wall of donuts, catered meals, and speeches from students and faculty alike, showcasing a diverse wave of personalities and backgrounds all interested in one the same thing: the shared present and future of the Owen Graduate School of Business.