Campuses to benefit from Penn State Center relocation, technology upgrades

The Penn State Center and Extension are relocating their spaces and targeting an April 2015 move-in to the Energy Innovation Center in the heart of Pittsburgh. This relocation will include many new changes, including a One Button Studio and a Mirror app.

According to Deno De Ciantis, director of the Penn State Center, the lease to the Energy Innovation Center, will take just more than 11,000 square feet in an 185,000-square-foot Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum-certified building that was once the Connelly Trade School. It is on the verge of being signed, and the construction drawings were completed several days ago. The former trade school has five academic floors and two and a half or so of vocational-technical floors, which are being reconstructed into a combination of offices and labs. Design for the new Penn State Center space, which will be on the first floor, is 95 percent completed, and construction is expected to start sometime this December. The Penn State Center is currently located in the Liberty Center, along Liberty Avenue. 

“It’s in a great location and will be a key center for Penn State outreach and student engagement,” said Ben Brautigam, manager of Advanced Learning Projects with Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT)’s Education Technology Services unit.

The main goal for the new space will be to continue to provide comprehensive community development programming while expanding engaged scholarship with University Park as well as the Penn State campuses located near the Pittsburgh area. The intent is to bring in students from those campuses into the new space, De Ciantis said. The decision to relocate was in the works for about five years, as the Penn State Center was seeking a location that would elevate Penn State’s profile within the central Pittsburgh area and provide an urban platform to all Penn State units.

“We’re looking at some really nice partnerships with local campuses to potentially deliver credit on undergraduate and graduate programming that could be targeted to the downtown population,” De Ciantis said. “The city has 180,000 commuters who come in and out of the city every day.” There will be partnerships with New Kensington; Greater Allegheny; Beaver; Fayette, The Eberly Campus; University Park; and other campuses across the state.

The core and shell of the new Energy Innovation Center is currently completed, and the occupancy permit of the building is expected to be issued in about a week. De Ciantis said the Penn State Center would likely be one of the first entities to occupy the space. Some other institutions that will house some of their operations in the building include University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University. Duquesne University will house a biotech lab, in partnership with a few other campuses, and Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh will house small operations of their institutions.

“It is in some ways a rebirth of that whole vo-tech concept back over a 100 years ago,” De Ciantis said. “So, the notion of this retraining, education and professional development workforce will continue to live in the building. I’m pretty excited about that."

Plans for the new Penn State Center location include a combination of offices and meeting rooms, according to De Ciantis. Several webinar rooms will be implemented, where resident staff can use these small, private rooms to give webinars. There will also be one large classroom that can be split in half to hold a maximum capacity of 50, along with conference rooms, one that will fit about 12 to 15 people and host the One Button Studio. De Ciantis said he intends to fit the large classroom on one side with a Polycom EagleEye system, which is an intelligent high-definition videoconferencing camera that zooms in on the person talking. The other side of the classroom would allow for off-site training and educational programming.

Penn State TLT has been working with the Penn State Center for several months. Nick Smerker, a traveling Media Commons consultant, held discussions with De Ciantis over the summer regarding how Media Commons might be able to support the center's community initiatives. During an Aug. 15 tour of the Energy Innovation Center, De Ciantis discussed with Smerker the technologies he was interested in for the Penn State Center's relocation. 

"Many Media Commons projects across the Commonwealth see students taking on service learning-type projects with local community groups," Smerker said. "Having a strong ally in the center would allow for Media Commons to connect faculty assigning these projects with non-profits and other organizations in and around Pittsburgh to create great educational opportunities. Additionally, the center itself would be a spectacular spot to bring together the campus and wider communities for training, research, and traditional teaching--while, at the same time, putting our media production resources in front of a much larger audience."

The One Button Studio is expected to be fully functional once the center opens in its new location. Brautigam said that the design team from Penn State’s Teaching and Learning with Technology group visited the Energy Innovation Center Oct. 21 for a consult and to provide support as the architects to draw up the plans for the new studio location. The design team and De Ciantis have been talking about what would be the ideal space for the studio and how they can fit it in the allocated space for the Penn State Center. Brautigam said that he believes the studio will definitely be successful within the Energy Innovation Center. So far, the following campuses have a One Button Studio: University Park; Harrisburg; Mont Alto; Altoona; Erie, The Behrend College; Abington; Berks; Brandywine; and Schuylkill. 

“We know the technology has been up-and-coming, and we want to be able to have that option here,” De Ciantis said.

The One Button Studio is currently being considered for two things — the Penn State Center’s own use and for students attending local Penn State campuses. According to De Ciantis, the center often needs video for its website and local marketing activities so the studio would help in that regard. De Ciantis said he wants to give students from local Penn State campuses the option to use the space if they live nearby and have to commute to their respective campus. 

Smerker said he will be continuing conversations with local campus stakeholders to discuss the Penn State Center's community involvement and future One Button Studio. The focus will be on how to develop educational media projects in classes that will connect with those resources.

Another technology addition would be the Mirror app, which is an app that can wirelessly project one’s iPhone or iPad onto a display, Brautigam said. For the Mirror app, large displays would be put in each conference room and space, so staff and students could collaborate with each other wirelessly.

As opposed to the past, the Penn State Center is looking at some significant technology changes over the next few months before the targeted move-in date. De Ciantis said no upgrades have been really made to the Penn State Extension office, which has been in the same spot since 1997. Technology for the center was limited to a Polycom camera and an audio/visual system.

In the coming months, De Ciantis said he is looking forward to housing Penn State staff and faculty who want to both visit, and bring their students and conduct their own research activities. Some space has been allocated in the new location for faculty to extend stays at the Penn State Center. De Ciantis said he hopes to significantly expand the types of activities the center is involved with, such as engaged scholarship and applied research.

Media Contacts: 

Emma Gosalvez

Public Relations, Teaching & Learning with Technology

Last Updated November 18, 2014