What activates your inner nerd? President Brian W. Casey is a self-confessed campus architecture nerd. Casey presented on his obsession during Brown Commons’s inaugural Nerd Nite lecture, “Set in Stone: The Role Architecture Plays in Institutions of Higher Education.”

Surrounded by a group of professors, students, and members of the Hamilton community, Casey made a case for the importance of architecture in creating and experiencing community on campuses.

Throughout his travels, studies, and career, Casey has found himself at many different institutions of higher education. He has noticed a pattern: each school has architectural designs that point to what the institution cares about. For example, at Casey’s undergraduate alma mater, Notre Dame University, a 3-mile-long avenue culminates in the administration building, upon which sits a statue of the Virgin Mary.

When he became the president of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., Casey saw that the campus entryway lacked romance and meaning. So, he created a new avenue entryway to the campus. “People were furious with me that I was tearing up the road — it was a mess, you couldn’t get around the campus, it was dusty and ugly,” admitted Casey. “Yet, the day it opened, everyone moved on.”

On Colgate’s campus, Casey found his avenue on Willow Path; during the last weeks of the fall semester, he lit the path’s trees with white string lights. After receiving hundreds of positive e-mails in reaction to the lighting, Casey knew that Colgate was “hungry for beauty, community, and ritual.”

One way Colgate is helping to address the need for community is the residential commons system. Brown Commons events like Nerd Nite foster student engagement with professors and each other.

Jeff Bary, associate professor of physics and astronomy and one of the leaders of Brown Commons, was inspired to bring Nerd Nite to Colgate after seeing how successful it was in cities. “People get together in a social setting with the intent of learning something interesting,” said Bary. He knew that the event was perfect for Brown Commons’ living-learning community.

“Liberal arts schools like Colgate should be all about opening inclusive and encouraging communities in which students want to talk about big ideas — both inside and outside of the classroom,” Bary said. “Providing these moments for them to come into contact with either visiting scholars or our own professors is one of the big things that these faculty-led learning communities can bring.”

Brown Commons member Rupika Chakraverti ’20 appreciated the opportunity to dialogue with President Casey. “I loved the informality of the event; I appreciated the comfy feel of having the president present,” Chakraverti said. “I’m so glad Jeff [Professor Bary] came up with this idea and that the Brown Commons Council was willing to execute it.”

 

Throughout the year, Residential Commons host events — ranging from faculty lectures and coffeehouse performances to brunches and theme dances — for their members and the entire campus community. Watch the Colgate calendar for dates and details.

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