Gulf Coast State College Opens Advanced Technology Center Featuring SMARTdesks Custom Computer Tables and Collaboration Furniture Designs

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Gulf Coast State College, in Panama City, Florida, has just opened its Advanced Technology Center (ATC) – one of the most sophisticated learning centers in the country. Florida Architects, Inc. turned to SMARTdesks for custom computer tables and collaborative furniture designs for “Learning Convergence”, enabling students to collaborate in technology clusters within open architectural spaces.

Gulf Coast State College ATC at twilight

The Advanced Technology Center at Gulf Coast State College Opens Fall 2013

SMARTdesks furniture allows staff and student to create any learning environment.

The Advanced Technology Center at Gulf Coast State College opened its doors for the Fall semester, with ribbon cutting ceremonies October 11, 2013. Over 500 students, faculty, staff, administrators, architects, and designers attended the grand opening of the ATC. Six years after initial planning and three years after breaking ground, the building is complete with SMARTdesks custom designed collaborative learning furniture, ready for full-time use. GCSC President James Kerley told local news channel 7, "Our goal was to try to be one of those top 2 or 3 schools and I think we've reached that. That's a great feeling for our faculty and staff and our students and our community. This is the community’s building."

Offering a new approach to education, ATC’s “future-forward” philosophy builds collaborative partnerships between private business, government, industry, and educational sectors. Academic programs range from Alternative Energies to Digital Forensics, Entrepreneurship Operations, Sustainable Design, and Logistics. Students can pursue both Associate’s degrees and Baccalaureate courses of study depending on their individual goals and needs.

The ATC emphasizes STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to prepare students for practical application of skills in the workplace. Additionally, GCSC has partnerships with local K-12 schools. The goal is to confer higher education degrees to local Florida students considering that slightly less than 20% of high school freshmen do not pursue postsecondary studies.

The ATC is a workforce-training resource, preparing graduates of the ATC programs with the tools to communicate their skills and strengths in the 21st century job market, in addition to pursuing their own innovative entrepreneurial ventures. The ATC, a $35 million investment, promises to bring economic prosperity back to the northwest Florida region, and aims to elevate the local community with educational and research opportunities provided nowhere else.

Mission Critical to ATC’s “learning convergence” environment: Custom designed SMARTdesks furniture.

“Learning convergence” refers to areas where students can work or have class while collaborating or using information technologies. Following this thread, the ATC has no corridors in its buildings; all floors are open architecture with open, collaborative zones where students can gather around technology clusters.

The success of the ATC depended on optimizing the utility and flexibility of every space within the building. Standardized, traditional furniture would not prove satisfactory. Joe Sorci, director of design at Florida Architects, was the head architect for the entire project, and as the building progressed, it became clear that cutting edge furnishings for the ATC were going to be difficult to find. In March 2011, Mr. Sorci contacted SMARTdesks, a collaborative furniture company committed to meeting the needs of the 21st century classroom.

SMARTdesks followed up with sample furniture, including the unique, reconfigurable iGroup and Exchange tables, as well as the HorizonLine and Pi tables. In June 2011, at the NEOCON trade show, Mr. Sorci continued searching for the ideal furniture, but found that while most other companies also touted their furniture as “collaborative,” few lived up to his expectations. In fact, speaking generally of companies in the furniture industry, Mr. Sorci said, “everything is the same no matter what the program is, and they’ve been doing it the same way for so long that, for them, change is unusual.”

Mr. Sorci’s interactions with SMARTdesks were different. The SMARTdesks design team engaged in dialogue with Florida Architects to assess the very space-specific needs of the ATC, launching a synergistic relationship that would ultimately lead to the completion of a world-class facility.

The SMARTdesks team developed furniture that, according to Mr. Sorci, “fits the style and statement of the building.” For example, the Exchange tables are comprised of modular units that each houses a FlipIT mechanism for secure display and presentation of computers and monitors. These modules can be arranged into hexagon, pinwheel, wave, and triangular combinations, depending on the needs of the students and educators for each project. In another area of the building, a scaled down version of Exchange, called the iGroup, serves other students’ needs.

Dr. Ariba Garmin, Director of E-learning said, "The furniture [SMARTdesks] provided allows staff and student to create any learning environment you want. You almost don't see it at all because you can move it around to suit your needs." One example of this signature flexibility in the ATC is the third floor boardroom table for 28 people. The table is comprised of fixed and foldable Nesta tables that can be collapsed and used elsewhere, thereby giving the space multi-functionality for various meetings, classes, and disciplines.

Kim Allan, assistant professor of Micro-Computer Applications stated, “the current generation does not want to be lectured to. They are going to figure it out for themselves. In order to keep pace with the current generation of students, you have to change your pedagogy to keep their interest. The best way to teach them is to allow them to learn as a group. The furnishings in my SMARTdesks classroom allow for these goals."

Associate professor of Business Technology Wendy Payne, who teaches in the Vista Collaborative Space said, "I came from a space that used cubicles. Conversations with your neighbors were not all that easy. What is nice in the space that SMARTdesks has provided is that everyone can see each another. All eight students can work in teams, in pairs or as groups. All of my classes are not lecture-based. They are working groups that we assign problems to. They have the tools and can read; therefore the hard work is solving the problem. In the spaces SMARTdesks has provided, it's a vast improvement from the old space where we were."

In the “community training room,” Pi tables offer a modern twist to the typical lecture configuration of desks. While the tables are usually arranged in long arcs easy visibility and comfortable use of laptops, the Pi tables can also be organized differently, should the need arise.

Antonio Adessi, assistant professor of Business and Technology, commented on this flexibility of SMARTdesks furniture. He said, "What we are doing in the digital manufacturing, electronic engineering and product design with students is giving them that creative edge that employers and experience that most employers require. Our programs really promote entrepreneurship, collaboration, and innovation in our students. The SMARTdesks furniture is the best in our facility, it's a total product and keeps the same level of quality and flexibility as our facility."

SMARTdesks designs and manufactures innovative, custom computer conference tables and computer classroom furniture. Each product is made to order, nuanced for the technology, purpose and interior design choices for the space. SMARTdesks is the patent holder for flipIT® products and is the sole source for flipIT and factory integrated flipIT furniture products. Serving universities, corporations, government and military clients world-wide, SMARTdesks furniture is made in the USA using Certified GREEN manufacturing methods. For more information, contact smartdesks through the web site—

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