Florida Southern’s New Outdoor Classroom Helps Restore ‘Normalcy’ through Informal Interactions

Mar 17, 2021

by Greg Williams
Publications Editor

Under a sunny and pleasant Monday morning sky, six Florida Southern College trustees joined other special guests and several dozen members of the Florida Southern community in the campus courtyard of the J. Carlisle Rogers Building to officially dedicate FSC’s new Ashley Gibson Barnett ’13 and Nick Barnett MBA ’18 Outdoor Classroom.

Participants in the official ribbon cutting for Florida Southern's new outdoor classroom were, from left, FSC Trustee Jason Rodda '02 of Rodda Construction, President Anne Kerr, donors Nick Barnett MBA '18 and Ashley Gibson Barnett '13, and Madelyn Walsh, president of FSC's Student Government Association. (Photos by Calvin Knight)

On March 15, guests wearing masks and observing physical distancing guidelines attended the dedication ceremony, which ended with a celebratory ribbon cutting. Florida Southern’s president, Dr. Anne Kerr, acknowledged the educational challenges caused by COVID-19 while marking the establishment of an inviting outdoor space that is enjoyed by students and faculty members alike.

Anne Kerr
The president of Florida Southern College, Dr. Anne Kerr, thanked donors Nick and Ashley Barnett as she welcomed guests to the dedication of the new outdoor classroom. “We are grateful for their support, and honored that they are creating a legacy here at this magnificent college.”

Dr. Kerr thanked donors Ashley and Nick Barnett “for their wonderful generosity, to help the dream of this outdoor classroom become a reality. … We know that this outdoor classroom will long be used, and has already become one of the favorite classroom spaces for faculty. Many faculty are telling us that the sharing, the interaction, has been so much more informal and open – and students who are typically shy have been able to share more – just by being out here, around a table.”

Nick and Ashley Barnett
Through their generous donation, Nick Barnett MBA '18 and Ashley Gibson Barnett '13 made FSC's new outdoor classroom possible.

The open-air classroom, which is shaded by a large red-and-white striped awning, consists of an anchored table of dark granite measuring approximately 6 feet wide and 36 feet long. Seating is available for 14 individuals, generously spaced to comply with physical distancing recommendations, making this new location a welcome setting for safe and relaxed academic interactions.

“In the life of every great private college, there are a few individuals and families that shape the course of an institution’s success and place in history,” Dr. Kerr continued. “Ashley and Nick are such individuals for Florida Southern College, and it is truly an honor to have their names on this prominent and important learning space.”

Jason Rodda ’02, a member of FSC’s Board of Trustees and vice chair of the building and grounds committee, extended his sincere appreciation to the Barnetts for their investment in the College on behalf of the trustees and his fellow alumni. “I would have loved to have had a space like this,” Rodda said, “to be able to have a unique space for formal and informal learning.”

In expressing her thanks to the Barnetts, Madelyn Walsh, a current senior who serves as president of the Student Government Association, noted that Ashley Barnett had held that position while a student at FSC.

Ashley Barnett
Ashley Barnett expressed the sense of pride that she shares with her husband, Nick, about their ongoing connections to Florida Southern College.

“FSC is known for engaged learning,” Walsh said, “and this classroom is an example of how we can be engaged with our professors and fellow students. It has become one of my favorite spots here on campus, as well as a favorite spot of a lot of our students. Even in the evening, you can see students studying here.”

Speaking for her husband and herself, both of whom are “very proud Mocs,” Ashley Barnett reflected on the widespread impact of the coronavirus pandemic. “2020 has taken so much away from everyone; people have had to make many sacrifices, large and small,” she said. “I think back to my time at Florida Southern as genuinely some of the best years of my entire life. The thing that these students should not have to sacrifice is their college experience.”

Through their generous gift to create this outdoor study space, the Barnetts have been happy to  help “get some sense of normalcy and fun back to the students,” Ashley Barnett added. “We hope that everyone enjoys it!”

Following the dedication of FSC's new open-air study space, students gathered for an afternoon class in the shade of its distinctive striped awning. (Photo by Jordan Weiland)