JCCC Stories

Come to the CoLab: JCCC's new "creativity toolbox" for experiential learning

January 27, 2017


Modeled after other collaborative workspaces springing up across the country, the Collaboration Center at Johnson County Community College is bringing people together.

The Collaboration Center – also known as the CoLab – opened in the fall semester of 2016 on the first floor of the Office and Classroom Building (OCB 100). In less than one semester, it hosted more than 250 events. A ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house are planned for spring semester to introduce even more people to the CoLab.

Christy McWard, director of the Collaboration Center, said, “Everyone has a real ‘Wow!’ moment when they come in the first time. But we are so much more than a cool space.”

The CoLab provides connections among students, faculty, and business and non-profit communities, she explained.  Most importantly, these connections allow students to learn by doing – “experiential learning opportunities” in CoLab lingo.

“We are all about building relationships for our students so that they can see the impact of their studies beyond the traditional classroom," McWard said.

What is the CoLab?

The CoLab provides JCCC with a dedicated space for collaboration. The multi-room facility spans 9,000 square feet.

The southern wall, once solid, is now glass. Two things peer through that glass: sunlight from Fountain Square and curious stares from people walking by.

“The idea of having all of this glass to let the natural light in – that was very important, and it didn’t exist at all before,” explained Stacy Roth, who helped co-design the center with a college committee and the DLR Group, an architectural firm.

“It’s also about getting that curiosity going, about getting people to want to engage in the space,” she said.

So far, it seems to have worked. Prominent members of the community are supporting the CoLab and JCCC students by participating in workshops, lectures, panel discussions and collaborative sessions with classes across disciplines.

"Working with students and faculty is incredibly fun," McWard said. "Their ideas are limitless. When they need to bridge internal and external connections to bring those ideas to fruition, the CoLab is here to help."

Vincent Miller, dean of the Academic Support division, which includes the CoLab, was involved throughout the ideation and planning stages of the Collaboration Center. Miller has seen the concept become reality under McWard's leadership.

"It's been incredible how students, faculty and our community partners so fully grasp what we're trying to do with this space, and how they have embraced the openness and spirit of experiential learning," Miller said.

What’s there?

Roth calls the CoLab “a giant toolbox for creativity,” and as director of education solutions at Scott Rice Office Works, it was her job to pick just the right tools. Those tools include:

  • A bold color palette of burnt orange, lime green and turquoise blue. Bound to capture the attention, it also serves to fuel creativity, she said.
  • Wheeled chairs, tables and room dividers. “Everything’s on wheels,” she said, “increasing flexibility of the space.”
  • Flexible seating. Couches, chairs, benches and even buoys – round, backless chairs that encourage movement – provide options for collaborative seating arrangements.

The CoLab also houses some pretty advanced technology. The digital music classroom allows students to record in three distinct spaces using state-of-the-art equipment. A motion capture studio will introduce students to industry-quality equipment for film production and animation, and the computer classroom is outfitted with 20 computers suitable for the greedy gigabytes needed for game creation and animation technology.

What can you do there?

McWard describes the CoLab as “a collection of studios.” While it’s easy to see how each separate room can be labeled a studio, McWard said even portions of the main commons area operate as studios. For example:

  • One corner with a lowered ceiling creates a sense of intimacy.
  • Another open corner with whiteboards and tables gives a more business-like feel.
  • A bank of bistro-like tables creates a feeling of a cozy coffeehouse, even though it’s in a large room.

“We’ve been getting great feedback from the students,” McWard said. Check online for a list of coming events in the CoLab, or just stop by.

“We’d love to show you this marvelous workplace,” McWard said.