With an eye toward student health and well-being, the School of Natural Resources (SNR) and Tiger Garden teamed up last semester to create a more welcoming environment in six classrooms across the Anheuser-Busch Natural Resources (ABNR) Building.
Funding for the project, which includes a variety of enhancements, was awarded through the University of Missouri Office of the Provost. A trio of SNR faculty helped make the award a possibility – Robin Rotman, assistant professor; Sonja Wilhelm Stanis, professor and associate director; and Patrick Market, director.
“This was something that we really felt called to do,” Rotman said. “Teaching is the cornerstone of everything we do here, and that means we have to be willing to invest in our students to amplify their learning opportunities. We were excited that the Office of the Provost was supportive of our vision.”
As each of the six classrooms are used for different purposes, there were certain features added to certain rooms. ABNR 123 showcases the most modifications. Those changes include peaceful light covers, standing desks, wobble stools, foot rockers and fidgets. There are also framed photos with pictures taken by members of the SNR community. That room has a living wall with plants specifically picked by Tiger Garden staff, too.
“Our choices were grounded in research – we weren’t just picking things at random,” Rotman said. “We put a lot of time into studying what other campuses were having success with, and we also conducted our own surveys to assess our students’ physical and mental needs. We tried to craft our plan to be responsive to those needs.”
Three natural resources graduate students – Sam Carter, McKenna Thompson and Melissa Jones – helped SNR faculty transform the rooms.
“I think having these options in our classrooms is amazing,” Thompson said. “We’re really lucky to have a faculty who care about our experience. While I don’t get to use the rooms as much as a graduate student, I know I would have benefitted from these tools as an undergraduate.”
“I see a lot of students putting these modifications to use, especially the fidgets and the standing desks,” Jones added. “We have quite a few student athletes who benefit from our standing desks especially, as they’re sometimes taller and normal desks don’t always fit them as well. I know I use the fidgets quite a bit when I’m in a room that has them. I just really appreciate how many options we have now.”
Rotman said the goal was to include at least a couple modifications in each of the six classrooms. The plants require the most care, and students from Tiger Garden have been instrumental in keeping them healthy and growing. Each plant was specifically selected for its location.
“The support we have from Tiger Garden has been incredible,” Rotman said. “When we found out we were going to be receiving funds, we knew we would be purchasing numerous items, and it was a big focus to try to invest some of that back into Mizzou. It’s been a great collaboration.”
Rotman added that they have recently taken more surveys to get an idea of what items worked best. They’ll study those responses in an effort to improve on changes that may not be working as well.
At the end of the day, Rotman added, the classroom is at the heart of teaching and SNR faculty want it to be a space that feels safe and inviting.
“When I was a student, I couldn’t sit still in class. Now, as a professor, I get to move around all I want,” Rotman laughed. “I want our students to be in an environment that supports their health and their learning. Plants improve air quality and can boost your mood, the light covers block out harsh fluorescent hues, and alternative seating and fidgets allow students to burn off stress and energy. We have several tools available, and I’m hopeful our students benefit from these additions.”