Students, faculty and staff gathered to celebrate the official grand opening of the Imagine Center for Integrative Learning and Life Design on Nov. 14. The center, which has been open to students since September, is home to the University’s seven career and professional development departments.
Throughout the day, students were invited to stop by the Imagine Center to engage in workshops and panels as well as enjoy free food, games and prizes. A series of interactive events was held simultaneously in order to allow students to choose activities that aligned with their interests. These included finding a mentor, developing self-awareness, exploring research opportunities, making the most of LinkedIn and connecting with staff from the different career development departments.
Ashley Schantz, assistant director of Life Design, highlighted the Life Design Lab (LDL)’s objective of having a space on campus in an interview with The News-Letter.
“Presence is invaluable,” she said. “Having a building where students can make their own and find space to connect with their peers but also have a constant presence of curiosity and ideation around what is important to you, how you can serve your community and ways you can best apply your education is the epitome of what we hope higher education is.”
Sophomore Kathleen Lac commented on the features of the building in an interview with The News-Letter.
“I like that the structure of the building is very open and free and clear-minded,“ she said. “I know that these topics can be stressful but the fact that the building looks this nice can bring students some relief.”
She hopes that the building will act as a safe space for students that remains accessible for them to connect with faculty for advice and guidance.
Tessa McKenzie, a senior educator of Life Design, illustrated the LDL’s shift in their approach to guiding students throughout her seven years working at Hopkins in an interview with The News-Letter.
“I love that it’s more holistic and that a different take on higher education is reflected in this different model and design for a building,” she said. “Inclusivity is a big piece to that. The design of this building is very inclusive intentionally and we are here to support people no matter what your social capital is, no matter your race and educational focus, no matter your immigration status.”
Before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, President Ronald J. Daniels, Provost Sunil Kumar and Vice Provost for Integrative Learning and Life Design Farouk Dey gave speeches to the attendees.
Daniels explained that the concept of life design was initially pitched as an alternative to what was formerly known as Career Services.
“To achieve our highest academic aspirations, we must embrace experimentation, pursuit, curiosity and remain willing to try,” he said. “I thought we had to give it a try, and I’m so glad we did.”
Daniels also emphasized that he hopes the Imagine Center will serve as a place to encourage all students to explore and critically think about the possibilities for their future careers. He continued to highlight that students have the opportunity to use the Imagine Center as a place to forge connections and prepare new paths for themselves with the support of staff and mentors.
Similar to Daniels, Kumar shared that the new Imagine Center embodies the life design philosophy that the University aims to foster for the student body, as students can experiment with different paths and opportunities while having a supportive and encouraging environment to explore.
“We can be with our students... not in this kind of forceful counseling interaction but in a casual way of having conversations, nudging, encouraging experimentation and giving feedback,“ he said. “The Imagine Center embodies [this] in many ways, the Life Design philosophy, and I couldn't be more delighted that we are formally opening.”
Sophomore Rachel Oh discussed why it is necessary to have a space that connects students to different opportunities in an interview with The News-Letter. She explained that with the pre-med culture present at Hopkins, she feels that it is important to show students that they have numerous opportunities and pathways to make their contributions to the world.
At the event, Dey expressed his philosophy of challenging students to experiment with their curiosities and turn their ideas into pathways with limitless possibilities with the help of mentors and resources.
“We've closed the outcome gaps for our first-generation students and our underrepresented minority students,” he said. “Today, more than 12,000 students across the university are engaging with over 6,000 alumni mentors who have raised their hands and said, ‘I want to be part of this movement, I want to help.’”
Dey concluded by providing words of encouragement and support.
“The Imagine Center is your home,” he said. “No matter who you are, no matter what your background is, no matter your social capital, you belong here, and we're here to support you and imagine the possibilities, try things out and build relationships.”
McKenzie exemplified the life design educators’ eagerness to engage with students.
“When we first opened, I think we were the best-kept secret on campus,” she said. “Now, whatever brings you into this space, you’re greeted with staff… We’re all here to have those conversations with you, whether you have plans on coming to the Life Design Lab to talk to somebody or it just organically happens over the water cooler.”
She noted that the staff continues to seek feedback from students, which is part of the Life Design process.
In an interview with The News-Letter, senior Devon Bonair expressed his hope the space can be used for student programming as well, especially since the Mattin Center has been removed.
Senior Olivia Wu commented on the significance of this space for the student body in an interview with The News-Letter.
“After the pandemic and now being in-person, having this physical space is important for students to walk in and have a face-to-face conversation with peer educators and LDL educators,” she said. “I hope more students become aware of this facility and all it has to offer.”