Constance Kassor, Adam Galambos and Beth De Stasio pose for a portrait.
Constance Kassor, Adam Galambos, and Beth De Stasio are among Lawrence University faculty playing lead roles in planning for academic spaces in the 315 E. College Avenue building and the Fox Commons development. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Constance Kassor can’t help but smile as she talks about the state-of-the-art academic spaces being planned for the new building that’s about to rise in the 300 block of E. College Avenue.

The Lawrence University associate professor of religious studies points to the Humanities Center that will be part of the building’s 30,000-square-foot second floor as an opportunity to bring additional vigor to the humanities at Lawrence—more collaboration, more innovative teaching tools, and more opportunities to partner with outside scholars.

“We do things in different ways, we do things more collaboratively, we do things digitally,” Kassor said. “We do a lot more than read books and write papers. This is really highlighting and supporting ways that the humanities are changing and growing and innovating.”

Kassor is among the Lawrence faculty providing leadership as academic spaces are mapped out for the coming 315 E. College Avenue building and the nearby Fox Commons development, two transformational capital projects that will add layers to the student experience, bring new pathways to career discernment, and build long-sustaining partnerships within the Fox Cities community.

Scott Corry, wearing a blue button-up shirt, stands with his hands behind his back.
Scott Corry: “We can design the classrooms to foster active learning and create the type of rich learning environments that we want on campus.” (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Scott Corry, the Patricia Hamar Boldt Professor of Liberal Studies and professor of mathematics, is at the table for planning spaces in the 315 building for the growing Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department; Beth De Stasio, the Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science and professor of biology, is working to develop collaborative spaces for pre-health students on the third floor of Fox Commons; and Adam Galambos, the Dwight and Marjorie Peterson Professor of Innovation and associate professor of economics, is leading a group of faculty members who are helping to design a Business and Entrepreneurship Center and Finance Lab on the second floor of Fox Commons to foster student-community collaborations. Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory, is leading design plans in the 315 building to enhance Conservatory offerings.

This story originally appeared in Lawrence magazine.

“We can design the classrooms to foster active learning and create the type of rich learning environments that we want on campus,” said Corry, whose department of 10 faculty members will be moving their offices and classrooms onto the second floor of the 315 building. “Another exciting thing is creating the common space to build community among math-stats-computer science students, and really all the students who take those classes. I’m excited that we’re building that in at the outset as part of the design.”

Two major developments build momentum

Fox Commons and the 315 building, both announced in summer 2023, will strengthen academic programs while enhancing career discernment for students across campus. In addition, they provide avenues for Lawrence to grow its enrollment in coming years, a key piece of the college’s strategic planning.

The Fox Commons development, to house nearly 180 Lawrence students in modern living-learning communities in the heart of downtown Appleton, is expected to open in two phases—the second floor by fall of 2024 and the third floor a year later. And the new four-story mixed-use building at 315 E. College Avenue, in partnership with Trout Museum of Art, is expected to open in fall of 2025, transforming the west edge of campus. Both capital projects will bring career-focused collaborations woven through multiple disciplines.

"These projects speak to the future."

President Laurie A. Carter

Excitement for what this will bring to Lawrence students—in conjunction with other strategic investments—is building on and off campus.

“The student experience includes what happens inside the classroom as well as outside the classroom,” President Laurie A. Carter said. “These projects speak to the future. Our faculty and students will have state-of-the-art teaching and learning spaces, our students will have modern living environments, they’ll have partners who can connect them with careers. And all of this will be done within the context of a deepening relationship with the community.”

The mix of built-in learning, collaborating, and mentoring spaces and new housing options is a powerful combination that adds important layers to the student experience as Lawrence strengthens its draw in an increasingly competitive higher education environment. As the enrollment cliff arrives—a reference to the dramatic drop in the number of high school graduates nationwide set to peak between 2025 and 2029—it is paramount that Lawrence positions itself to attract the best and brightest students while continuing to lean into the lifelong benefits of a liberal arts education, Carter said. That means embracing the university’s 177-year history and its commitment to the liberal arts while evolving the student experience to meet the needs of today’s students—needs that are different than those of past generations.

The draw of these projects comes not in the buildings themselves but in what those new spaces bring to Lawrence’s students and faculty—stronger academic programming in areas ranging from the arts and humanities to pre-health and business and entrepreneurship, modern teaching tools, and built-in mentorship opportunities aimed at building life-after-Lawrence career paths.

The 315 partnership

Lawrence Campus West Rendering
The building at 315 E. College Avenue is projected to open by fall of 2025. (Design by Frederick Fisher and Partners, in partnership with Boldt)

The new building at 315 E. College Ave., at the southwest corner of College Avenue and Drew Street (adjacent to Brokaw Hall), will be Lawrence’s first new major building project since construction of Warch Campus Center in 2009. It will feature more than 100,000 square feet across four floors.

The nonprofit art museum will be on the first floor, with state-of-the-art academic spaces for Lawrence on the second floor. The upper floors will feature market-rate apartments, space that could one day be converted to student housing to meet future needs. It will be built by Boldt and jointly owned by Lawrence and the Trout Museum of Art, with Lawrence controlling the upper three floors and the art museum the ground floor.

A recently announced $10 million gift from an alum and spouse is a huge initial step.

Lawrence’s academic space on the second floor will include soundproof offices for Conservatory faculty and offices for the Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department. It will include an innovative teaching and co-curricular commons, where students will engage in both formal and experiential learning in varying disciplines. And it will be home to the Humanities Center, an intellectual collaborative for faculty, students, and scholars-in-residence. 

The mathematics, statistics, and computer science faculty have outgrown their space in Briggs Hall as the department has expanded to accommodate growing student interest, including in the statistics and data science minor that was introduced in 2020. The opportunity for the department’s faculty to have offices together and share innovative teaching spaces is a game-changer, Corry said. A bonus is the alignment with the Conservatory.

“There has always been a lot of overlap between mathematics and computer science students and students interested in music,” Corry said. “That happens here in general at Lawrence, but in this case it’s a really good kind of synergy for us.”

"This is where we’re going to lean into creating internship opportunities and set up community partnerships.”

Constance Kassor

Kassor, meanwhile, said humanities faculty will have new opportunities to innovate. Humanities faculty have outgrown Main Hall, many with offices located in other buildings across campus.

While the humanities faculty offices will remain where they are—including in Main Hall—the new space in the 315 building will allow faculty to work more in unison. That will include digital projects—podcasting, video editing, virtual reality, and more—and collaborations across disciplines in deeper ways than is now available.

“The idea is it will allow for more interdisciplinary work between faculty, between departments, and between faculty and students,” Kassor said.

There also will be several designated offices for visiting scholars, providing new opportunities to bring scholars-in-residence into the curriculum, add new punch to traditional programs such as the Main Hall Forum, and facilitate connections to the community so humanities faculty and students can spotlight the work they’re doing.

“Because this space on the corner of College and Drew is going to be so accessible and right there downtown, it will be a place we can invite community members to,” Kassor said. “We can really work to highlight the real-world skills our students gain in humanities classes. And this is where we’re going to lean into creating internship opportunities and set up community partnerships.”

Meanwhile, in the halls of the Conservatory, there is growing excitement over the possibilities that will come with the new space—a huge upgrade from office and studio space formerly housed in the Con West building.

“This will be an enormous addition to our commitment to giving our students the tools they need for a successful musical life in the rapidly changing world of today, tomorrow, and far into the future,” Pertl said.  

Expanding campus with Fox Commons

Drawing shows what the Business and Entrepreneurship Center in Fox Commons will look like, with meeting spaces, a stage and tables for gathering.
The Business and Entrepreneurship Center in Fox Commons will feature meeting spaces and a stage for pitch contests, speakers, and other activities.

Fox Commons, located three blocks to the west, will give Lawrence new academic and student life avenues as a living-learning community that blends apartment-style student housing with built-in mentoring partnerships.

The renovation of City Center Plaza into Fox Commons began in the summer of 2023. Located at 10 E. College Avenue, Fox Commons will be a 180,000-square-foot health care, housing, retail, and mixed-use community hub. It’s a project of Dark Horse Development and Boldt. Besides Lawrence, other prominent tenants include Mosaic Family Health, Prevea Health, and gener8tor, a business incubator focused on sustainability.

Built-in academic and collaboration spaces include a Business and Entrepreneurship Center, a Finance Lab equipped with specialized financial industry software, a pre-health commons, a community kitchen, and lecture and meeting rooms. The living-learning spaces will allow for Lawrence students interested in business and entrepreneurship and pre-health careers to collaborate regularly with professionals from Mosaic, Prevea, gener8tor, and other nearby finance and business entities.

The business and entrepreneurship piece will come first, with those spaces and the second-floor apartments opening in time for the start of the 2024-25 academic year. The pre-health spaces and third-floor apartments will open the following year.

A drawing shows what the Pre-Health Commons will look like in Fox Commons, including a built-in kitchen amid the teaching spaces.
The Pre-Health Commons in Fox Commons will feature a built-in kitchen amid the teaching spaces. 

De Stasio has been working with designers to incorporate collaborative spaces into the third floor that will facilitate partnerships with the health-focused tenants. She envisions at least two speaker series tied to “The Future of Medicine” and to career pathways within the broader field of health care as well as more casual mingling of students and health care professionals. There will be a lending library for health-related materials, and there will be robust mentorship activities ranging from internships and shadowing experiences to mock interviews.

“In addition, the inclusion of a demonstration kitchen will allow us to provide chef-led demonstrations of healthy cooking for these students living with full kitchens in their apartments for the first time, as well as for other students on campus,” De Stasio said.

There also will be room to invite alumni who are Fox Valley-based health care practitioners to come in for catered meals with Lawrence students.

“We want to provide space for those interactions with health professionals,” De Stasio said.

On the floor below will be spaces catering to business and entrepreneurship; spaces that Galambos sees as a momentum-builder following this year’s launch of the business and entrepreneurship major and the recent growth of the innovation and entrepreneurship program.

We will work together with gener8tor, another key tenant in the Fox Commons development, to cultivate and enhance the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Fox Cities,” Galambos said. “Lawrence’s innovation and entrepreneurship program has engaged with the business and entrepreneurship community for a number of years, but our new business and entrepreneurship major and the new center in Fox Commons will open the door to a lot more opportunities, and we are excited to build those new collaborations.”

The Business and Entrepreneurship Center will become a hub for everything from workshops and guest speakers to community events and pitch contests. And the Finance Lab will bring experiential learning opportunities for students interested in business.

“All students will have access to the programming,” Galambos said, “but those who will live at Fox Commons will benefit from being part of a residential community organized around their academic and career interests.”

New housing options

While the focus in the Fox Commons development has been mostly on business and entrepreneurship, pre-health, and related disciplines, the apartments will also be a draw for a wide range of upper-year students. Lawrence juniors and seniors will have the opportunity to live in two-, three-, and four-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors. A lottery system is being developed for students wanting to live in Fox Commons.

Lawrence senior Anders Hanhan, an environmental studies and government double major from St. Paul, Minnesota, who serves as president of the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC), said the apartment-style living option is something students have been asking for.

“One thousand percent,” he said of students wanting that option in their junior and senior years. “There are a lot of students who are seeking more independence, and this absolutely does that in a way that Lawrence hasn’t done before.”

Addison Littlefield, a senior from Sidney, Maine, called the Fox Commons option a huge win because it gives upper-year students who want to explore life outside of residence halls an opportunity to do so while remaining closely connected with campus.

“We always hear about the Lawrence bubble,” she said. “This is not exactly popping the bubble but rather expanding it.”

The design of Fox Commons is intentional in that students will still be part of the campus environment while also having the opportunity to explore what life after Lawrence might look like—personally and professionally.

“We’re not really viewing this as off-campus housing but rather an extension of our campus in a way that allows students to develop those transitional skills while still being very connected to the campus community,” Carter said.

Bolstering the student experience

Lawrence leadership has been actively building on the student experience. That includes new and enhanced academic programs, a stronger and more engaged Career Center, additional support staff in Student Life, new investments in athletics—nearly a quarter of Lawrence’s students are student-athletes—and now new opportunities in academics, residential life, and community partnerships.

In addition to the partnerships with Trout Museum of Art and Fox Commons, the university has in the past year:

  • Strengthened the first-year experience, beginning with a reimagined Welcome Week and the hiring of a first-year dean.
  • Introduced a new business and entrepreneurship major, built through the lens of the liberal arts.
  • Introduced the Lawrence Advantage to improve accessibility to a Lawrence education for all academically qualified students from Wisconsin and Illinois.
  • Introduced a new dance minor.
  • Upgraded facilities with more than 50 separate projects, many focused on residence halls.
  • Began a new facilities master planning process to assess facilities across campus.
  • Built a new outdoor track and field complex at Whiting Field and a new locker room facility at Banta Bowl.
  • Announced plans to fund-raise for the building of a new recreation center. The recreation center, open to all students, would include fitness spaces and indoor competition and/or training facilities for track, baseball, softball, tennis, and more. More details are expected to be released soon.

The strategic initiatives, supported by the Board of Trustees, puts a focus on enhancing the student experience in academics, student life, and career exploration. And they position Lawrence to be able to transition, when the time is right, from an enrollment of about 1,500 to something closer to 1,900 while remaining a residential liberal arts campus.

Growing a stronger community

The enthusiasm surrounding these investments is palpable, in part because of the prospect of building a tighter, more connected community in downtown Appleton. That’s not lost on students.

“It helps open up Lawrence to the Appleton community,” Littlefield, a music performance major, said of both the Fox Commons and 315 E. College developments. “I think the living-learning communities provide a great chance for students to interact with businesses downtown, kind of further fostering the Lawrence connections to Appleton.”

Those growing interactions speak to what Appleton has to offer in terms of culture, education, and career opportunities.

“For our students, it’s additional chances to get involved, to find their passion, find opportunities, get ready for life after Lawrence,” said Chris Clarke, vice president for Student Life. “I think Appleton will benefit from us being more in the community, and I think our students will benefit from these opportunities with our partners.”

Carter calls it an important next step in the campus-community relationship, one that dates to the founding of Lawrence in 1847 and the development of Appleton as a municipality in the years to follow.

“This is an opportunity to deepen that relationship in a very meaningful way,” she said. “It’s about having our students be part of the community in a way that allows them to understand what it means to be good neighbors, to really interact with the College Avenue population a little more deeply, particularly as the downtown becomes more residential. We’re preparing them for life after Lawrence while still providing them with that piece of the Lawrence bubble they’re looking for."

At a glance: Fox Commons

Where: The mixed-use rebuild of City Center Plaza by Dark Horse Development is at 10 E. College Avenue in the heart of downtown Appleton, three blocks west of the Lawrence campus.

Academic spaces: There will be learning and teaching spaces focused on business and entrepreneurship (second floor) and pre-health (third floor) careers—a Business and Entrepreneurship Center, a Finance Lab, a Pre-Health Commons, and lecture and meeting rooms.

Housing: Lawrence will be a tenant in the building, with housing available for about 180 students in two-, three-, and four-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors.

Collaborations: The space is designed to allow mentorship and collaboration with other tenants, including Mosaic Family Health, Prevea Health, and gener8tor, all geared toward career discernment and preparation.

Timeline: The second-floor apartments and learning spaces are expected to open in fall of 2024. The third floor would open in fall of 2025.  

At a glance: 315 E. College Avenue

Where: The new building will go up at the southwest corner of College Avenue and Drew Street. Boldt is the builder.

Scope: It will feature more than 100,000 square feet over four floors. The first floor will house the nonprofit Trout Museum of Art. The second floor will house state-of-the-art academic spaces for the humanities, the Conservatory, and mathematics, computer science, and statistics/data science, including a Humanities Center and experiential learning spaces. The upper two floors will feature market-rate apartments, with the option of converting some of that space to student housing in the future.

Ownership: The first floor will be owned by Trout Museum of Art. The upper three floors will be owned and controlled by Lawrence.

Timeline: Construction will begin in early 2024. The building is expected to open by fall of 2025.