Chapter 33. Pennsylvania State University: Smeal College of Business

Chapter 33. Smeal College of Business
The Pennsylvania State University

Peter Nourjian

What Is It?

Smeal College of Business is the largest academic building on the Penn State University Park campus, the third largest classroom building, and one of the largest business school complexes in the country. It adds 55,000 square feet of academic space for business programs-increasing space available for students and faculty by 35 percent.

The building features specialized instructional studios including a trading room and e-incubator lab, research laboratories, 150-seat auditorium, team study rooms, 22 classrooms, faculty and graduate student offices, interview rooms, executive space for visiting experts, a 100-seat café, administrative offices, and a four-story atrium lobby that offers a central gathering space-all configured to trigger discussions across disciplinary boundaries and mirror developments in the business world.

On the upper floors, instead of a long, narrow hallway, a wide, well-lit thoroughfare contains lounge pods where collaborative discussions occur. Conference rooms are scattered throughout the building. Faculty and business research areas are located in close proximity to the executive, leadership, and administrative areas to encourage dialogue among all faculty groups, research centers, and external constituents, including business partners, alumni, and friends. Even Smeal's exteriors, courtyards, and two terrace balconies are designed to bring minds together. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Smeal College of Business
Figure 1. Smeal College of Business
©2006 Esto Photographics

The school is part of the east subcampus, a plan that puts Smeal beside the Food Science and Forest Resources buildings and diagonally across from the future site of the law school-a layout that physically embodies the links between research and commerce and the litigation issues between business and ethics. The adjacent construction underscores the trend toward "subcampus" environments designed to encourage interdisciplinary interaction among faculty and students. Construction began in August 2003 and was completed a month ahead of schedule in July 2005. (Take a virtual tour at

The Smeal College originally was founded as the Department of Commerce and Finance in the College of Liberal Arts. Today, Smeal offers undergraduate degrees in accounting, actuarial science, economics, finance, management, management information systems, and marketing, as well as supply chain and information systems. The college's undergraduate enrollment exceeds 4,500. Nearly 150 students are pursuing MBA degrees and about 75 are studying for their PhDs. The college also offers executive education courses in University Park and around the world.

Smeal offers teaching, research, and learning spaces to create a "home" where faculty, staff, students, and alumni can connect. Common areas promote and enable communications among the Smeal academic community, corporate recruiters, and the outside community.

All of the college's academic needs are met under one roof. The building features versatile classrooms for instruction, state-of-the-art laboratories for research, comfortable study lounges for reading, and even a coffee shop. Undergraduates manage a $4.5 million investment fund in the trading room, guest speakers share their insights in the auditorium, careers are kicked off in the building's interview rooms, and the spacious atrium plays host to a variety of special events, from career fairs to dinner receptions. Innovation and knowledge can be found in every corner. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The Four-Story Atrium Lobby
Figure 2. The Four-Story Atrium Lobby

How Is Technology Used?

Technology is integrated throughout-Smeal is hardwired with the latest CAT 6-E system, and wireless capabilities energize every space within and outside the building. Soon the block of academic buildings that populate the subcampus will also have wireless access. In the classrooms, connectivity reaches every seat. The podiums integrate technology, and global messaging is available through an A/V system. To maximize communications for both the campus and the external community, a kiosk in the atrium features a display screen that can locate a dean's office, provide details about an accounting program, or give the who, where, and when of a lecture series.

The trading room epitomizes the building's technological advances, mimicking the reality of a Wall Street brokerage firm. Two 48-square-foot projector screens and three plasma television screens broadcast the latest business news from around the world on CNBC and Bloomberg News. Students track their stocks' performance on two 64-block ticker boards and a streaming ticker, each updated continuously with live data feeds from Reuters and Bloomberg. The room's 54 dual-monitor desktop computers each feature dual Pentium 4 processors and 512 megabytes of RAM, ensuring Smeal students have access to the same tools and technology available to financial brokers in Manhattan. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3. The Trading Room
Figure 3. The Trading Room
©2006 Esto Photographics

What Makes the Space Successful?

One-stop shopping makes the space successful. A student can lounge in the atrium space, get something to eat in the café, go to class, interview for an internship in the corporate relations area, do research in the trading room, meet with a faculty advisor to plan courses for next semester, and meet with a student organization-and never leave the building!

When there's a special event, an elaborate dinner, or a career fair, furniture is moved; multiuse flexibility allows quick and easy reconfiguration of the space. Even the new mailroom plays a role: faculty and staff who would seldom cross paths are now channeled into a space that lets them pick up their mail and gather some interdisciplinary ideas at the same time.

What Principles Were Behind the Design?

Driving Smeal's design was the belief that community, connectivity, and curiosity can be powerful catalysts to learning. By creating interesting, flowing spaces that bring people with different interests into close proximity, an exchange of ideas and cultures occurs that makes the educational experience even more rewarding and enriching.

The walls separating departments in today's corporations are being torn down. Real business problems aren't solved by marketing or accounting alone. Rather, they require the collaborative efforts of several departments. Accounting may find a shrinking bottom line, which can be turned around with a new marketing campaign, an improved supply chain, and perhaps some human resource maneuvers. Smeal's business building fosters this kind of collaboration in teaching and research, aiding its faculty in producing cross-discipline research that is truly relevant to today's businesses and preparing the college's students for the challenges they will encounter in their careers.

What Is Unique or Noteworthy?

Friends and alumni have invested more than $4 million in the Nittany Lion Fund, which undergraduate students manage by investing the money in the stock market. They're accountable for its profitability (so far exceeding the Standard & Poor's index) and must make the case for their stock selections to investors.

A supply-chain research lab uses IBM software, server, and storage technology to connect Smeal's number-one-ranked supply-chain department with several other universities around the country as well as in Europe and Asia. The interconnected grid lets faculty and students at these universities collaborate in studying, simulating, and testing the key relationships in an end-to-end supply chain. The unique supply-chain simulations help IBM and other companies build dynamic supply chains that can sense and rapidly respond to changing customer demands and market conditions.

All in all, Smeal offers students the knowledge, the experience, and the interdisciplinary exposure that will ensure their success in a tough-minded global economy.

About the Author

Peter Nourjian is the corporate marketing editor at Gilbane Building Company.