A Thoroughly Modern Welcome
CHESTERTOWN, MD—Washington College recently opened its new Admissions Visitors Center, an elegant, state-of-the-art space that provides hospitality and information to prospective students and their families. Occupying a two-story octagonal room at the heart of the campus, the new Center offers elements that reflect both the College’s 230-year history and its embrace of technology and innovation. (Click here for more photos.)
Vice President of Enrollment Satyajit Dattagupta made the creation of the new space a priority immediately after starting his job on July 1 of this year. He shepherded it from planning to opening in just 17 weeks. “The need for a new, modern space was urgent,” he says. “I am grateful to everyone who had faith in this vision and who brought it to life so quickly.”
The new Visitors Center is located in the Casey Academic Center (CAC) in space formerly called The Forum and used as a classroom, meeting space and reception area. The new design, painted in warm gray with cream and white trim, highlights the Georgian architecture of the room—with its high round windows that flood the room with sunlight, and six French doors that open to a brick balcony. It also highlights the College’s founding patron George Washington, whose iconic face is screened onto one of the two new walls of glass that connect the room to the marble lobby of the CAC.
Along one wall, a 90-inch video screen tells the story of Washington College through a 20-minute presentation that showcases academic life, community life and athletics. Interspersed in the video are cameos of alumni with brief text about their experiences on campus and where they are now in their careers.
Visitors can learn more by engaging with two interactive touchscreens and four iPads that are pre-loaded with a custom Washington College app. The content on these smaller screens includes a section of historic images and a computer-generated flyover of campus created by the College’s Geographic Information Systems lab. Yet another screen, embedded in a coffee table, enables visitors to watch the interactive Washington College content or access the Internet.
Contemporary sofas and chairs upholstered in a light gray fabric provide seating. A custom-designed reception desk includes a video screen that welcomes visitors by name, and a built-in refreshment bar offers hot and cold beverages.
Down the hallway are four architect-designed interview rooms with glass walls that can be folded back, accordion style, to create larger spaces. Each individual interview room sports a curved ceiling engineered to keep interview conversations private.
The clear frames that hold the touchscreens also hold artifacts from earlier eras—a ladle from the well that slaked thirst near the Hill Dorms in the late 1700s (it’s believed General Washington, himself, drank from it), and a maroon beanie once worn by a member of the Class of 1955.
Reaction to the new space has been overwhelmingly positive, from visitors and members of the campus community alike. Dattagupta is pleased with the way the new space is working. “A visit to our campus has to be truly memorable,” he says. “These days, a family might visit ten or more colleges in the course of their search, and they tend to run together in their minds. We wanted to create an experience they will remember, one that leaves them with a strong impression about our quality and our hospitality. This new Visitors Center accurately reflects our campus and the personalized education we provide. I do believe it will help set us apart from other colleges.”
Dattagupta hopes local residents will stop by and visit the new Center, too. “We love visitors and look forward to welcoming more than just prospective students and their families,” he says. “The more the merrier, especially when it comes to spreading the word about Washington College and all the great things happening here.”
Planning Committee: Early on, a committee drawn from the College’s Senior Staff met to discuss the timetable, budget and vision for the project. In addition to Dattagupta, it included Vice President for Finance Jim Manaro, Director of Physical Plant Reid Raudenbush and Chief of Staff Joe Holt.
Architect: Walter Schamu and Zach Secor of Baltimore-based SMG Architects worked closely with Dattagupta to design the spaces to be modern, airy and welcoming. Secor, the lead architect, designed the reception desk and coffee bar.
Contractor: Jay Yerkes of Chestertown-based Yerkes Construction was the contractor and project manager. He and job foreman Jamey Brown assured that top-quality work was done, on time and on budget.
Graphics/display design: Joe Karlik of Locust Grove Studio in nearby Kennedyville, designed the displays and graphics, including the framing of the video wall, touchscreens and artifacts, and the screens of George Washington’s head and tree branches that decorate the floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
Graphics/display manufacturing: Red Giant Studio, a manufacturer of trade-show displays based in Jessup, Md., built the displays, as designed by Locust Grove.
Interior design: Jay Jenkins, of Jenkins-Baer Associates in Baltimore, created the design scheme, from paint colors to furniture and lighting fixtures.
Creative Content: The writers, designers and videographers in the Office of College Relations and Marketing, led by Senior Director of Communications Marcia Landskroener, created all of the content for the video walls, iPads and touchscreens. They also contributed to some of the design elements, from framed photos to phone/iPad charging stations created from stacks of books that relate to the College (George Washington Book Prize winners, books by benefactor Sophie Kerr, and books written by members of the faculty.)