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Hailing a reborn hall

April 28, 2022

Newly rededicated Durham Hall is the new home to School of International Letters and Cultures, multiple humanities centers

Arizona State University’s Durham Hall has been transmogrified, in the words of one of its inhabitants, from “one of the ugliest buildings on campus to one of the most beautiful.”

Thus said Nina Berman, director of the School of International Letters and Cultures, at Tuesday’s rededication of the newly renovated building.

Dean of Humanities Jeffrey Cohen talked about seeing the building when he arrived on campus: “It was not a pretty sight,” Cohen said. “I’m pretty sure I saw a mushroom in the basement.”

Not anymore.

The three-year, $65 million project has transformed the old Language and Literature Building from an eyesore outside and what Berman called a “health hazard” inside to a sleek, light-filled, state-of-the-art facility able to hold its head alongside the campus’ newest additions.

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Professor Nina Berman, director of the School of International Letters and Cultures, speaks at the grand reopening of Durham Hall on April 26. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Now home to the School of International Letters and Cultures, Durham features an open floor plan lobby with plenty of seating, a café where five TVs broadcast the news from five countries, small group study rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows in some spots and glass-walled offices.

Now home to 11 humanities centers, more than 20 languages are taught there. Ten thousand students use it every day.

The basement language lab is gone. (Technology made it obsolete.) The only thing that remains unchanged are students mangling Mandarin and Spanish in the halls.

President Michael Crow called the building’s new style “Sonoran utilitarian” at the rededication ceremony.

In ASU’s tradition of sustainability, the decision was made to repurpose the building rather than tear it down and build from scratch, even though that would have been easier.

“This was my most frustrating project because of how long it took,” Crow said. “Hopefully it’s reinvigorated for another 50 years.”

“A workhouse building,” university architect Ed Soltero called it. Nearly all undergrads have passed through its doors since 1964.

“The campus has a history of growing in spurts,” Soltero said. “One of the things we’ve been trying to do is honor our historicity and create a historic foyer for the university.”

Details from Old Main aren’t actually copied in the new design, but they are alluded to. The exterior has been reclad to match the brick of Old Main and the University Club to the east. Walk over to Alumni Lawn now and there’s a nice fit between the three buildings now instead of two swans and an ugly duck.

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The east side of the newly renovated Durham Hall. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Durham is the first building prospective students — and parents — see on campus tours. Architect and senior associate Elizabeth McLean at Ayers St. Gross, the firm behind Durham (and Hayden Library), said there were unique challenges around the fact that it is a gateway project. The building couldn't afford to have a grand entrance and it was between two different character zones: Cady Mall and Alumni Lawn.

There was also the sustainability mandate.

“We were able to adapt a hundred percent of the existing building and save 73% of the structural system, which is where the embodied carbon is primarily located,” McLean said. “It helps us divert what would've been an investment into creating a new building here, so preserving the building instead of tearing it down is giving it a new life with a sustainable approach. On the interior, it was important to consider the learning environment. We needed to design for change.”

They took the long narrow hallways and set up environments for collaboration outside of classrooms – very useful in a place where practicing languages together is a daily necessity.

“Conversations with the campus community had revealed that the interior environment was inhospitable to teaching and learning, and working too,” McLean said. “So it led to an analysis that informed our approach to peeling off the envelope, which allowed us to address a lot of aesthetic concerns and goals for the university, but perhaps more importantly to provide daylight and views and increased glazed openings.

"So it directly influences your experience when you're in the classrooms or when you're in a shared collaboration space or even in a workspace on the upper level. I think that's really important.”

And it worked. Berman said the building motivates students and faculty.

“We felt more valued when we moved into it,” she said.

The building was named after G. Homer Durham, ASU president from 1960 to 1969. A devout Mormon, he supported himself during his own undergraduate years by playing trumpet and piano in small dance bands. After ASU, he was the first commissioner and executive officer of the Utah System of Higher Education. The Vietnam War and campus protests raged during Durham’s tenure.

“I don’t think any president survived that,” Crow said.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News

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Barrett mentoring program helps first-year honors students find their way

April 28, 2022

Weekly activities help new students adjust to college life and become more involved in the Barrett community

Starting college can be challenging, especially when students can feel lost and unsure with what career path they want to pursue. Arizona State University’s Barrett Mentoring Program is one of the tools available for students to have a smooth transition during their time in college.

The program, part of Barrett, The Honors College, offers first-year honors students programming and support to help them adjust to college life and become more involved in the Barrett community. It is offered on all four of ASU’s campuses in metro Phoenix.

Liz Marini, who has been the program manager at Barrett for 20 years, says the mentors “are aware that everyone faces challenges when starting at ASU and Barrett, and they strive to ease this transition by answering questions and including new students in fun events.”

The mentors are Barrett students themselves, from sophomores to seniors, and can provide advice to new students who are having difficulty connecting or are not sure where to start career-wise.

M.J. Sarraf, a sophomore majoring in forensic psychology and neuroscience and the Barrett executive board chair on the West campus, says the mentors help new students adjust to their new environment as well as to meet other students and form bonds.

“Barrett is its own little community,” said Sarraf. “The mentoring program really demonstrates that to students and gives them someone to ask their questions to and a way to meet new people with common interests.”

The program provides weekly activities during the fall semester, and mentors take turns creating, planning and hosting them.

“Some of these activities are designed to provide information and advice, like the Human Event info sessions where mentors share their experiences in the required first-year class,” said Marini.

Being a Barrett mentor comes with plenty of responsibilities — and opportunities to learn, such as their weekly meetings where they can work on their professional skills.

“We build professional skills by having meetings geared toward teaching specific skills, such as constructive criticism, email etiquette, presenting and so much more,” Sarraf said. “We want our mentors to come away with more information than they had coming in. The club teaches us how to help the first-years, but it also teaches skills that are always useful to have in any career path.”

As part of developing skills in working collaboratively, they must plan and execute at least two events during the semester, as well as assist other mentors. 

Marini says that the program gives first-year students access to older students who share similar experiences.

“Having a mentor can help new students make important, long-lasting connections as they share their experiences as a way of helping them cope with the overwhelming emotions associated with starting university,” said Marini.

Marini says that “the sense of belonging and confidence from connecting early can help a student focus on their classes and seek out help when it is needed.”

Sarraf echoed the importance of the connections she made through the program.

“These connections are ones that I have carried through my years at Barrett and been able to utilize for questions and advice,” Sarraf said. “The amazing faculty here is always so open and kind; it is amazing to have a way to get to know them one-on-one through these events.”

Student reporter , ASU News