If you are currently a senior at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, you’ve likely noticed that Andersen Hall looks a lot different than when you began your curriculum. Some of these upgrades, like the new and improved lobby featuring the giant screen students and staff call “Big Bertha,” are impossible to miss.
If all of this looks brand new, it’s because it is. A lot of these major renovations to the college have come in the past few years, with plenty more on the way as part of its new strategic plan.
In fact, Dean Shari Veil says they don’t plan on halting facility upgrades anytime soon. According to her, improvements to the college will never end.
“We want to make sure that we have the facilities and equipment that helps support our students who are going into that changing media environment,” Veil said. “We will always have to keep renovating, always have to keep growing, just as our students will have to keep updating their skills.”
Plenty of this growth at the college has helped completely change the facility seemingly overnight. All the recent new additions and upgrades are part of a major effort to keep an engaging environment, along with staying up to date with the ever-changing world of media.
“It is almost unrecognizable since I first came to the college,” said Regan Vaccaro, student and CoJMC ambassador. “That being said, it is all positive change that prepares students for the ever changing industry.”
According to Veil, development plans have aligned closely with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s N2025 Strategic Plan, an ongoing campus-wide plan with the central focus of making every person and interaction matter. University Chancellor Ronnie Green has been involved with some of the recent launches at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
The recent physical renovations so far have turned Andersen Hall into a modern hub for media services. The efforts of Dean Veil, business and operations manager Haley Hamel and various committees relating to college matters helped bring these goals to fruition. Some of the major groups involved include an executive committee, a technology and infrastructure committee, a curriculum committee, student ambassadors and the student advisory board. Vaccaro also played a part in the overall execution, serving on the mission vision and values committee with Veil.
“They truly care about us as students here at CoJMC and value our opinions in terms of the direction of the college,” Vaccaro said.
The biggest recent addition, however, came internally in late 2021 with the launch of the Experience Lab. After acquiring space above the Lincoln Children’s Museum, a team of staff and students helped develop this educational lab, complete with eight different programs and a planned change in overall curriculum in the college. Some notable programs under the Experience Lab include Jacht, Unlimited Sports, Nebraska News Service and 90.3 KRNU.
Veil said that the Experience Lab so far has also gained a lot of traction across different colleges on the UNL campus.
“We have students from other majors who are taking part in the Experience Lab. We have some who are volunteering, so they are not getting credit,” Veil said. “They are still showing up the same number of hours and still being involved in the Experience Lab. They want that opportunity for hands-on experience here.”
The college’s facelift began in 2017 with upgrading the basement and visual communications lab. What used to be a long, dark hallway transformed into a collaborative lab space. The innovation studio was also very unwelcoming before its overhaul.
“That (innovation studio) literally used to be a closet. It had drains coming out of the floor. It was unsafe,” Hamel said.
The next major upgrade came in the lobby, turning it from a dark, dated, puzzling space to a much more welcoming atmosphere. Upgrades to this space included a large screen to show off student work, a central check-in and meeting space, a room for recruiters to speak with prospective students and overall aesthetic changes to make the college’s entrance feel more bright and modern. Construction took place in the summer of 2020, and students were eventually welcomed back to an all-new lobby area.
“We also just wanted to make it brighter and airier and have people walk in and know that they’re in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications,” Hamel said. “They are coming to a place where they’re really going to learn about what is happening today in media and communications, not what was happening in the 60’s.”
Big things are ahead for the second floor as well, with plans to build a large newsroom called the Donald and Lorena Meier Studio. This space will be a central hub for all things news and media related, featuring a news desk, control room and interview space. Most construction on this will take place this coming summer.
Also coming to the second floor is the Pepsi Unlimited Sports Lab. Veil said the new lab will provide more sports multimedia and broadcasting accommodations, giving sports media & communication majors a more dedicated location.
Other smaller facility upgrades and additions include outside signage on the building, a podcast room and an improved student lounge area.
According to both Veil and Hamel, while the physical renovations have been easier to see progress on, plenty of internal and programming changes also came along the way, including the launch of the Experience Lab. The sports media & communication major was established just five years ago, and now has 275 students and faculty. The broadcasting major expanded to have two paths, broadcast journalism and media production, along with opening the media production minor to all students on campus. For student assistance, the number of full-time academic advisers grew from two to five, reducing their individual workloads and allowing them to work better with their students.
Beyond undergraduate programs, the available graduate certificates also saw expansion. The college added two new certificates, one being public relations and social media and the other being financial communications. These are 12 credit hour programs that can also be applied toward a masters degree if a student chooses to continue on that path.
For many of these projects, funding came from various donors, both alumni and beyond. Hamel said major contributors included Pepsi, the Don & Lorena Meier Foundation, the Nebraska Broadcaster’s Association, the Johnny Carson Foundation and Phil Perry. Various local sponsors also helped contribute to the college’s agency space above the Lincoln Children’s Museum, including Pixel Bakery, Digital Sky and Firespring.
While Hamel stated that final costs are not known until construction is finished, estimated construction costs include $30,000 for the Pepsi Unlimited Sports Lab, $90,000 for the Perry Multimedia Photo Lab and Studio and $650,000 for the Don and Lorena Meier Studio. Additional costs will arise from cameras, equipment, technology, furniture and other various expenses.
The heavily improved College of Journalism and Mass Communications, both physically and internally, hasn’t limited its benefits to only its own students. According to Hamel, plenty of inquiries come to the college from people seeking equipment checkouts, facility usage and even staff expertise.
While there are plenty of new renovations and additions for students to check out at the college, the work is far from over. Veil and Hamel assured that the growth and adaptation of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications will never stop. As long as the industry changes, the college will change with it.
“I actually had an alumni ask me that the other day. ‘What are you going to do when you’re done building all this stuff?’” Veil said. “Build something else.”