Fowler Visits SIC About New Learning Commons Plans

Senator Fowler visited with students, staff, faculty and administrators at SIC earlier this month to learn more about how state money would be spent to renovate the student Learning Commons.

Sen. Dale Fowler visited Southeastern Illinois College students, staff, board members and administrators Oct. 17 to learn more about the college’s plans to utilize state funds for the renovation of the Melba Patton Learning Resource Center (MPLRC) and the Dana Keating Student Success Center (DKSSC) to create a Learning Commons area for students. Both the MPLRC and the DKSSC will be housed in the Commons.

Southeastern will receive $101,735 from the state as part of a $150 million appropriation to community colleges across the state, which was announced in September. The state funds are for deferred maintenance projects, and the improvements are long overdue from prior leaks before a new roof was installed.  The SIC Board of Trustees approved the use of bond funds to match state dollars to complete the project with modernizing in mind.

“We’re always coming out to SIC for groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings and it’s exciting. We’re so fortunate to have Southeastern Illinois College right here and it’s growing. Obviously there’s been issues with education and state budget recently, but we’re working through that and things are going to be bigger and better,” said Fowler.

“To be able to renovate a space like this has got to be good for the students. This room’s been this way for a long time, as Dr. Rice stated. To be able to come into a complete new atmosphere with a comfort zone that’s new and fresh and clean will give a lot of positive energy to students and staff.”

The project includes a reinvention of the library and LRC to meet the current needs of students, with the use of technology for learning in the forefront. More specifically, it includes improvements such as new ceilings, lights, electrical additions and remodeling.

President Dr. Jonah Rice explained how the new Learning Commons idea came about with the idea to create a learning hub for the college. “The college engaged students and staff as well as experts in the field about how to re-conceptualize what we need to serve students best in this generation. The learning commons approach is a fusion of library, media support, tutoring, and testing all under one umbrella for a ‘one stop’ approach to academic support.”

Once the reinvention need was recognized, he and a number of staff visited several other colleges that had recently updated their libraries in this manner to get a better feel for how it could all come together.

The project began this summer and will continue over the next few years, as the space is updated and redefined. Walls between the LRC and The SSC will be removed and instead of maintaining a quiet library for individual study, the college is moving toward an updated environment that includes space for collaboration and active learning. The redesign will create a barrier-free area that will encourage students and instructors to share ideas and communicate effectively.

“The new learning commons will incorporate all those elements in a more seamless manner of student service,” said Dr. Rice. “The Board is committed to student success and will use both state grant funding and bond money to upgrade the entire area, top to bottom. This will happen in phases to minimize impact on student learning. It’s an exciting project that keeps SIC on the forefront of innovation and service.”

Board member and chair Dr. Pat York added, “We’re here to serve students and this will help them directly. It is our duty to provide students with the best support for their success.”

Katie Dusch, administrative assistant to the dean of academic services, holds a master’s degree in library science and is excited about the project. “Today’s student can’t be pinned down to traditional or nontraditional student, or any specific category anymore, as each one is so varied in their needs, backgrounds, attitudes, etc. The learning commons, however, has the potential to accommodate many at once.”

Gary Jones, SIC librarian since 1985, has seen the library grow over the years and is eager to see it “transform from basically a book warehouse to a multipurpose student use area” to better fit the needs of current students.

Jones and Dusch have already begun the process of what they call ‘weeding’ to make room for the new, more open spaces. The pair have already culled a lot of books for various reasons, such as poor condition, duplicates, reference that can be found more easily in a digital format, items that don’t meet current curriculum needs and don’t fit the purpose of the general collection. The ‘weeding’ akin to weeding a garden will allow for shorter bookshelves to open up the space and let in more natural light from the many windows, as well as allow for fewer shelves to make room for newer technology and group study spaces.

The reinvented space will offer both group and solo study areas, digital and print platforms, assistance and tutoring. It will also be a place to gather, relax, collaborate and communicate.

“We want to create a vibrant, friendly atmosphere where students will have access to whatever type of help they need – from tutoring and research to technology assistance – as well as a place for them to relax and socialize,” said Karla Lewis, coordinator of media services and distance learning. “We are growing to meet the changing study, technology, and social needs of our students.”

During a recent board meeting, it was announced that Lewis would become the Associate Dean of Learning Commons. Several additional positions including an academic resource specialist and more tutors will be added in the coming year.

Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg with an extension center in Carmi was founded in 1960 and ranks ninth in the state for degree and certificate completion, offering more than 80 degree and certificate programs.  At $106 per credit hour, SIC boasts one of the lowest tuition rates in the region, saving transfer students more than $20,000 during their first two years of college.

SIC offers online classes, dual credit for local high schools, accelerated courses, night classes and community education opportunities. With 4,500 full or part-time students per year and more than 200 employees, SIC is a top employer in Southern Illinois. For more information, visit or call 618-252-5400.

Senator Fowler visited with students, staff, faculty and administrators at SIC earlier this month to learn more about how state money would be spent to renovate the student Learning Commons.
Karla Lewis, soon to be Associate Dean of Learning Commons at SIC, explains some of the exciting plans for the SIC Learning Commons.