Elon’s Koenigsberger Learning Center creates one-stop learning commons for all students and synergies for support services, even during the pandemic.
When the Elon Commitment 10-year strategic plan was produced in 2010 it envisioned a possible expansion of Carol Grotnes Belk Library that would include a relationship-rich center for student support. It would be a one-stop location for students to receive academic advising, peer tutoring, writing help, library research support or learning assistance. Joan Ruelle, dean of Belk Library, helped in developing the idea and thought of it as a learning commons.
Fast forward to fall 2018, when the Koenigsberger Learning Center opened. The 11,000-square-foot, two-story addition on the east side of Belk Library reimagined how college students study, receive tutoring, academic advising or specialized services.
The visionary facility was made possible thanks to a $5 million gift from Robert and Dilek Koenigsberger P’17, of Greenwich, Connecticut, as part of the Elon LEADS Campaign. Their gift supported both the construction of the new center and also established an endowment that will fund annual operations of the center, including new staff positions and technology resources.
Now fast forward to fall 2019, when the benefits of the new learning commons became readily apparent. The Koenigsberger Learning Center was in use 24 hours a day, five days a week when classes were in session, said Becky Olive-Taylor, the founding director of the center and an important member of the team that planned and nurtured the learning commons atmosphere. Olive-Taylor, who retired at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, said she often arrived at the KLC in the morning to find rearranged and recently vacated chairs and tables throughout the facility. Nearby movable whiteboards still displayed mathematical equations or other diagrams from a night of intense studies.
“Students not only found the space, they’re using the tools we have available,” Olive-Taylor observed at the time. “I am amazed at how fast the students just claimed it and made it theirs.”
Developing Elon’s iconic campus with outstanding facilities like Koenigsberger Learning Center is one of the priorities of the $250 million Elon LEADS Campaign. To date, more than 335,000 square feet of new construction has been added to the campus thanks to generous and dedicated Elon LEADS donors like the Koenigsbergers.
“This magnificent gift from the Koenigsberger family has provided a visionary facility that is preparing students for success on campus and in their careers,” said Elon President Connie Ledoux Book. “Watching the students embrace the Koenigsberger Learning Center as their go-to study and academic support space is inspirational.”
The KLC was designed with student access, comfort and inclusion in mind. It is connected to Belk Library by a large hallway and an engagement space, creating a dynamic and easily accessible learning commons. Students may enter through the KLC doorway facing Inman Admissions Welcome Center or via the main library entrance. The facility houses Academic Advising and Disabilities Resources, as well as a now full-time Learning Assistance program that is certified through the prestigious and internationally recognized College Reading and Learning Association. Students can use the center to receive help from an academic adviser, writing assistance, individual tutoring from student peers or aid through assistive technology developed to help students with a learning disability. Students also gather in the KLC to find private study spaces or collaborative engagement sites, all in a comfortable, spacious and bright environment.
Robert Koenigsberger praised the vision behind the facility during his remarks at the center’s dedication in fall 2018.
“This building is indeed spectacular,” he said. “However, most inspiring of all is Elon’s courage and wisdom to place the KLC in the heart of campus, attached to Belk Library. This permits convenient, seamless access to all these essential programs.”
A site for success
Early on, Ruelle envisioned a facility that would house resources to help every student succeed. Previously, peer tutoring, Teaching and Learning Technologies and the Center for Writing Excellence were housed in Belk Library, while disabilities resources and academic advising were located across the street in Duke Building. The KLC now brings together all three of those important resources under one roof, plus spaces for individual studies or group work. For students, the transition was seamless.
“The students know this is the place they go to get things done,” Ruelle said. “They know this is where they come to connect with experts and do their academic work.”
Hadley Anderson ’20, from St. Louis, earned a degree in Computer Science with minors in Business Administration and Communications. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck last March, she spent a lot of time in Koenigsberger Learning Center, calling it her “favorite place to study.” The variety of study spaces is a major draw for students.
“I love how open it is. There’s a lot of space for collaboration,” said Anderson, who worked as a peer tutor during her junior and senior years. “All the furniture is movable. It’s definitely a creative space. When there are midterms or finals, you have to get there at the crack of dawn if you want to get a space, which is a good thing. It means the students are utilizing the space and it’s appreciated.”
Pivoting during a pandemic
The pandemic provided a new challenge for the staff in the Koenigsberger Learning Center. Last March, when students were sent home, classes moved online. Academic support did as well. Tutoring and other services were handled by virtual systems such as WebEx or Zoom.
Anne Bryan took over as executive director of the KLC last June following Olive-Taylor’s retirement. Starting a new job during a global pandemic provided a few obstacles, but the collaborative atmosphere fostered by the learning commons concept helped ease the historic transition.
“Our staff worked the entire pandemic, offering services safely in person, through email or Zoom calls. We haven’t stopped supporting students because of the pandemic. We’re just serving them in a different way,” said Bryan, who came to Elon from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
The additional study space the KLC provides is critical during the pandemic when only 50 percent of the building can be occupied at one time. For example, group study rooms are now individual study rooms. And having all services in one place allows for staff to work together to meet the demands of students.
“We’re a very collaborative team,” Bryan said. “We might have a student in our caseload who uses disabilities resources but is also receiving peer tutoring. It allows us to be able to triangulate those services. We can work together to see how we can support that student best.”
Ruelle said the number of visitors to Belk Library and KLC is down, but that’s what’s needed while physical distancing advisories and mask mandates are in place. She is proud of how well students have adapted.
“Normally we would say, ‘rearrange the furniture at will.’ But we aren’t allowing people to rearrange the furniture now. We would normally say, ‘sit down next to me and let’s do this together.’ Now we look at how we can make connections through screens,” Ruelle said. “But we’re still us, we’re still very much who we are, and we’re really proud of that.”
Bryan is looking forward to welcoming more students back to the Koenigsberger Learning Center when it is safe, so it can reach its full potential.
“With Elon being a highly residential campus that prides itself on being high touch, we’re really looking forward to interaction with students. We get a better sense of how they’re handling challenges when we can see and be with them in the moment,” Bryan said. “It’s a beautiful building and a great place to work. I’m delighted to be here.”
The Koenigsbergers are parents of Amber Koenigsberger ’17. They have previously supported scholarship funding at Elon. Robert Koenigsberger is founder, CIO and managing partner of Gramercy Funds Management.
About the Elon LEADS Campaign
With a $250 million goal, Elon LEADS is the largest fundraising campaign in the university’s history and will support four main funding priorities: scholarships for graduates the world needs, increase access to engaged learning opportunities such as study abroad, research and service learning, support for faculty and staff mentors who matter and Elon’s iconic campus. As of Jan. 11, donors have contributed $204 million toward the goal.
Every gift to the university—including annual, endowment, capital, estate and other planned gifts—for any designation counts as a gift to the campaign, which will support students and strengthen Elon for generations to come. To learn more about how you can make an impact, visit www.elonleads.com.