So much has changed for students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in the past few months – just as it has around the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But some things have stayed relatively the same, just with a few tweaks, and the decade-old Scripps Convergence Lab in room 402 of the Communication Building is one of those things.
“I think it is really important to maintain a sense of normalcy and order during this time,” John McNair, the IT director for the college, said as to why he has kept the lab open despite usage of it being down.
McNair said he hopes students start returning to use the lab and said measures have been taken to make it a safe space. The computer and desk configuration in the spacious room has been changed to be compliant with new university guidelines for health and safety, but the lab remains a quiet haven where students can pop in and get their work done, or bide time in between classes, said McNair.
“It’s a nice space within the college, and they can use the computers and programs that they may not have on their own computers, or may not have room for, specifically the Adobe Creative Cloud suite,” McNair pointed out, noting that the lab’s computer programs are driven by faculty requests, which he is always open to receive in an effort to better assist CCI students.
The lab is for students who want to use programs they don’t have and for students who want to utilize the space. For CCI students who may have noisy living situations, unstable internet connections, or just want to get in a good headspace to study or do schoolwork, the lab is a perfect area for that. It’s likely to be less crowded than other common spaces on campus, and mask wearing is enforced by himself and staff, McNair said.
The Scripps Convergence Lab is open 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday. Students are allowed to eat and drink in the lab if they are six feet or farther away from each other, but mask use is recommended at all other times.
The lab is considered a back-up classroom that can hold 10 students under the COVID-19 space requirements, but that option hasn’t had to be utilized yet, McNair said. The adjoining Williams Conference Room next to the lab is currently being used as a classroom, but that doesn’t affect the lab itself. Perhaps one of the biggest changes due to spacing requirements is that student groups can no longer meet in the lab or conference room. It’s a tough rule, though a necessary one at this time, considering that the lab was initially created to let students from the entire college mingle together, McNair said.
“There was a need for the four schools in the college to have a space where students could interact. Each of the schools had made their own space, in an office or conference room, where their own students could meet, but there wasn’t anywhere where all the students could get together,” he said.
It took a lot of logistics and moving parts more than 10 years ago to gain control of the 4,000 square feet of prime university real estate – with views overlooking Neyland Stadium, the Tennessee River and Circle Park. First, there had to be funding for the endeavor, which came in the form of a $500,000 grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation. Then, there had to be a place for the previous occupants – UT legal counsel – to move into in order for the space to be emptied. And, of course, everything had to be planned out to best serve the college and its students. The lab was open and dedicated in January 2010, and has been serving as a hub for CCI students, faculty, and staff ever since.
“The whole point of the college is to converged media, and how the schools use the same tools across different disciplines. The dean thought it was important for students to be able to come together so they could see where their disciplines overlapped,” McNair said.
To learn more about the Scripps Convergence Lab, check out its website – or just go by and check it out!