The Graduate Student Commons—Enhancing the Student Experience

September 13, 2012

In record speed—less than two years of planning and construction—a new study space in the John B. Macdonald Building (JBM) was ready to greet graduate students as this fall semester began.

The Graduate Student Commons is a 242-square-metre (2,605 sq. ft.) facility with study carrels, meeting rooms, a kitchen, and washrooms with showers and lockers. All are finished with the modern architectural touches like glass walls and calming wood tones that have characterized other recent renovations to JBM.

A decommissioned graduate periodontics clinic, an oral surgery and several small offices on the first floor were gutted and renovated for the project.

“We built it intentionally as one space for all the clinical specialties—in fact, for all graduate students across the programs—to help foster a sense of collaboration, of working together, of integration,” says Dr. Charles Shuler, dean of the Faculty. “And by first accounts I think we’ve succeeded.”

Graduate students and faculty in the Graduate Student Commons on opening day, September 13, 2012. The space is now fully furnished with study carrels that are also computer work stations.

Graduate students and faculty in the Graduate Student Commons on opening day, September 13, 2012. The space is now fully furnished with study carrels that are also computer work stations.

UBC Dentistry is currently the only dental school in Western Canada that supports five graduate education programs: Periodontics, Prosthodontics, Endodontics, Orthodontics and Pediatrics. There are 66 students enrolled in these programs.

With the huge growth of the graduate programs, one of the biggest issues has been where to put students, notes Dr. Ed Putnins, associate dean of Research, Graduate & Postgraduate Studies.

“We had grad students sprawled around the building. There was no space to relax, no secure space for belongings, no place to change after a day in clinic, and most importantly,” he says, “we lacked a dedicated space where all graduate students can discuss and develop complex treatment plans in a multi-faceted learning structure.”

With a full suite of clinical specialty graduate programs, the dental school is able to serve more patients with complex case needs. The case management of these patients—most of whom have limited means—often involves consultation with graduate students and faculty in other specialty disciplines.

Not only do patients receive comprehensive attention, but graduate education at UBC is enhanced by cross-discipline consultation in a dynamic and engaging group-learning environment.

Three seminar rooms outfitted with high-definition plasma monitors for multidisciplinary treatment planning complement the individual carrels where students can study and conduct their research quietly.

“We consulted students for design input,” Putnins recalls, “and determined that the architectural principal to guide the space design was to first bring all grad students together by their shared common experience, rather than by discipline.”

Dr. Les Campbell, a graduate student in Endodontics, says the enhanced learning created by mixing disciplines in a single space and by having vigorous discussion in enclosed seminar rooms is one more step in UBC’s progress to become the grad school of choice. “It’s a place to call our own,” he says, “and the impact on students of having an environment where we can share the highs and lows of grad student experience will be immeasurable. It creates morale and camaraderie and friendships that will last well beyond our years at UBC.”

The Graduate Student Commons opened on September 13, 2012. The apt facility name was first coined by professor and oral biologist Donald Brunette.