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Inner Space

Can a building’s architecture support better teaching and learning? Professors in Halligan Hall hope so.

A $4 million renovation has just been completed in the building, which houses two School of Engineering departments that are rapidly growing in popularity: computer science and electrical and computer engineering.

One of the cornerstones of the project is the creation of several open spaces meant to foster collaboration. The new spaces are furnished with comfortable chairs that can be moved into clusters and have whiteboards on the walls, for sketching out ideas. A kitchenette for students and faculty is strategically located nearby.

“You really can’t overestimate the benefits of random collision, people bumping into one another over coffee or at lunch, in places other than the office,” says Eric Miller, a professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering. “The spaces that have opened up will help foster that. It will provide a central location where people will collide, and hopefully interesting things will happen.”

Computer science professor Carla Brodley agrees. “The shortest route to get to offices from one side of the building to the other is through the collaboration space,” she says. “And that’s a good thing.” Brodley, who served as chair of her department until returning to full-time teaching and research at the start of this academic year, sees tremendous value in faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students having more room to share ideas and work together. Collaboration is central to teaching, research, and jobs in the industry, she says, so professors regularly assign class projects that involve group problem-solving.

Once they are in the workforce, Tufts graduates are “going to work with a team to develop a product,” Brodley says. “A big part of computer science is learning to work collaboratively.”

Even before the building enhancements, Tufts students have been embracing this team approach—and flocking to the classrooms and corridors of Halligan. The building is a hub of student activity 24 hours a day; on any given night, all computers are taken and students are camped out in classrooms with their laptops. The expansive new conference rooms, as well as the new collaboration space, will ease the congestion. And more natural light, filtered through solar tubes, makes the interior more inviting.

As computer technologies have become increasingly important to the global economy, the computer science department has seen a 67 percent jump in enrollment in classes over the past three years, Brodley says. Its doctoral program has grown from 11 Ph.D. students in 2002 to 44 in 2013. In electrical and computer engineering, the number of funded research assistants grew from fewer than five in 2005 to more than 20 in 2013. Both the computer science and the electrical and computer engineering departments have seen a significant increase in research over the past decade, with even greater involvement of undergraduates.

Students leaving Tufts with a bachelor’s degree in computer science have gone on to graduate schools such as Princeton, Brown, and Berkeley, while others have joined companies such as Google, IBM, Microsoft, TripAdvisor, LinkedIn, and Facebook, with a mean starting salary for new graduates of $95,000. Similarly, graduates with degrees in electrical and computer engineering are employed at companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Intel, and MathWorks, or have gone on to attend graduate schools including MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and Duke.

Faculty members are hopeful that such successes will only grow, now that the space in Halligan Hall is renovated to encourage collaborative learning and team-based problem solving among the next generation of engineering leaders. And professors like Brodley and Miller hope that future investments will make the space even better. On the top of Brodley’s wish list? “State-of-the-art classrooms, with lots of outlets for laptops.”

To learn more about supporting the renovation at Halligan Hall and naming opportunities, contact Cindy LuBien, senior director of development for the School of Engineering, at 617.627.4512 or cynthia.lubien@tufts.edu.