The look and feel of education is changing, with students to benefit

By Jill Vowels, Project Architect, Minneapolis
Atrium at University of San Diego, Knauss Center for Business Education

We all depend on ecosystems to thrive. Ecosystems in nature continuously regenerate, using energy to fuel the clean air and water necessary for us to live a healthy life. Ecosystems in business power the complex network of suppliers, distributors, and customers to ensure financial success. Ecosystems are essential, and the concept of business ecosystems isn’t new. Embracing an ecosystem-based education and breaking with traditional mindsets to adopt new approaches will become increasingly required as student expectations shift.

Considering education network as regenerative ecosystems

Network Based Education

Higher education in itself is a network of multiple schools and disciplines, faculty and students, alumni and community partners, all trying to achieve success for their own programs and focus areas, but often in a very fragmented, insular way.

The traditional business of business schools is evolving into more complex organizations – online programs, hybrid teaching and learning, international collaborations, and expanding revenue generators. Education is becoming increasingly network-based, and the model for business education is becoming more open, more collaborative, and more willing to share resources.

With visionary University and School of Business leadership and partners, our team for the University of San Diego, Knauss Center for Business Education, set out to unbundle and co-produce, pooling resources to support greater innovation and inter-organizational learning.

Our team designed a new building and integrated a fully renovated existing adjacent building into one, unifying complex centered around business education.

Intentional approach to planning

Embedded in multi-institutional learning ecosystems, the business school aimed to integrate itself as an intersection of student services, rethinking how the team interacts with students, how to cultivate diverse partnerships and how to engage a new kind of academic leadership within their values-based education.

We aimed to create a fluid institutional ecosystem as an agile organization, allowing the school to adapt over time in an ever-changing and unpredictable future. Re-envisioning territorial programs into strategically stronger networks through shared resources will help the school achieve their broader objective: allocating resources in a new paradigm of distributed hub and platform, where the soft skill development key to their School’s values, could engage an actualized “force for good.”

Focusing the shift of philosophy from inherently insular to radically porous will not only engage a dynamic complex within a beautiful San Diego campus but will bring industry perspectives into their cross-disciplined community. The School will reap the rewards of establishing clusters of knowledge generation that will attract students from within the learning ecosystem and encourage an innovative community collaboration approach that is more diverse, specialized, and versatile.

Our team strategically applied the concepts of an ecosystem – birth, expansion, leadership, self-renewal – to create versatile spaces that will meet the evolving needs and expectations of students as well as reward collaborative, interdisciplinary work and assemble dispersed faculty resources within a larger network.

Ecosystem Diagram
Ecosystem-based education
University of San Diego, Knauss Center for Business Education

Focus on the Future

Through the process of unbundling and pooling resources, we were able to break down hierarchical barriers and reimagine networks of spaces around clusters of knowledge.

Glazed entry walls created strategically porous boundaries between the indoor and outdoor connections to the 20+ flexible classrooms by providing not only physical access, but highlighting the student’s accessibility to resources, information, discussion, and activities.

The prominent location of the Dean’s offices at the building entry and cross disciplined Department Neighborhoods reject the often privatized and inaccessible assumptions of business school faculty and leadership — inviting interaction and engaging openness as part of the diverse ecosystem network.

Dynamic digital content creation within the Torero Production and Recording Studios will enable faculty to expand their knowledge network, creating pod casts, practicing, and recording for hybrid digital coursework across broader interdisciplinary and organizational networks.

Dynamically branded Centers of Distinction and Free Enterprise Centers integrate open work, collaboration, maker, and classroom functions into entrepreneurship catalyzers of startup opportunities with local community partnerships, possible through programming a network of adaptable mobile walls, flexible furniture, and interactive technology. The Centers will strategically distribute resources as fluid and visible destinations – hubs – within the complex.

The physically and technologically flexible Nexus Theater engages the complex’s public indoor and outdoor courtyard spaces to bridge the gap between free, public gathering and formal event and meeting spaces, where everybody meets anybody.

Creating equitable access to daylight, uncapped views across and through the building, purposeful integration of nature in materials, naturally ventilated building with operable windows, and glazed fronted offices and co-work neighborhoods will enable and engage future business students as they accumulate experiences across a network of education along their journey.

Embracing an ecosystem-based education will support the changing future learner, whether in business or other education programs, despite our uncertain times as they plan their journey and adjust their itinerary along the dynamic network of visionaries who will combine vision and creativity with action.

One unifying complex around a courtyard for business education
University of San Diego, Knauss Center for Business Education
Nexus: free, public gathering and formal event and meeting – where everybody meets anybody
University of San Diego, Knauss Center for Business Education



Free Enterprise: clusters of knowledge within fluid destinations of community partnership
University of San Diego, Knauss Center for Business Education
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