By Jennifer Johnson
When the governor of Tennessee talked to Lipscomb University (Nashville, TN) about the need for local workforce development, the church of Christ-affiliated school began brainstorming ways to bring more graduate education opportunities to its community. But the result was far more than a few online classes or one-week seminars; the new “Spark” center in nearby Williamson County offers resources, meeting space, and the newest technology in a creative environment.
“Typically an off-site academic facility will be in an office park, with the college investing just enough money to make it operational,” says John Lowry, executive director of Spark. “It’s often unused much of the time, and students assume they’ll receive an inferior experience.”
Instead, Spark is open 16 hours a day, with meeting space including a learning studio, conference room, and media lounge. Local businesses and nonprofits rent the rooms, which can be configured for everything from small board meetings to large events. State-of-the-art technology—including digital collaboration space and HD video conferencing—is standard, and The Spark Café offers refreshments and light meals.
“We’re adamant about the quality of the experience here, so one call gets it all,” Lowry says. “We do all catering, we take care of the tech needs—an organization can just tell us how many people they’ll bring and what they want to accomplish, and we take care of the rest.”
Spark offers assistance with content as well, with Lipscomb professors and staff available to facilitate or make presentations.
After hours, the building transforms into an academic center offering master’s degrees in business administration, exercise and nutrition science, information technology, marriage and family therapy, and more. Lipscomb professors and adjuncts from the professional world teach the classes.
Spark even serves meals to every student before evening classes begin!
“We know every minute is precious when you’re working, taking classes, and trying to care for your family,” Lowry says. “So not only did we locate Spark in Nashville’s tech and business hub instead of on our main campus, but we also provide dinner before night classes. We give our students an extra hour in their day.”
Although the building has been open only a few months, at least five outside groups book meeting space each week and 100 graduate students are currently enrolled in classes.
“Spark is designed around a lot of research about how adults learn, work, and collaborate,” Lowry says. “We want to remove distractions and make it easy for our business leaders and students to succeed.”