November 5, 2004

Beck Center Expansion Opens

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Precise geometric architecture, soaring floor-to-ceiling windows and an infusion of height and light capture the essence of the new Robert A. and Jan M. Beck Center, a modern, cutting-edge teaching facility that the hotel school unveiled in a grand opening last Thursday.

At 35,000 square feet, the Beck Center features a lecture hall for 140, three case study rooms (including one equipped for distance learning), two classrooms, eight interview rooms, two group study rooms, informal seating areas, an expanded computer center and a hospitality suite to welcome visitors.

What distinguishes the Beck Center classrooms from other Statler classrooms is their leading-edge technology, said Neal Geller ’64, the Robert Beck Professor at the hotel school and the first professor to teach in the new facility.

“Everything is at your fingertips … there is a touch-screen, control lights … a computer projection screen on stage left and a document camera on stage right,” he said. According to Geller, the “state-of-the-art, leading-edge technologies of the Beck Center” complement the “state-of-the-art, leading-edge hotel executives” produced by the hotel school.

Kurt Zitzner ’04, managing director of the 80th annual Hotel Ezra Cornell, a spring event in which students run the Statler Hotel for a weekend, shared similar sentiments. Zitzner stated in a Cornell news release that “the new center will give added cachet to the event, which yearly attracts top hospitality leaders from around the world.”

The center is named after Robert Beck ’42, the second dean of the hotel school, and his wife, Jan. They “served the hotel school with distinction for much of its 82-year history,” said hotel school Dean David Butler last Thursday.

“Under [Beck’s] stewardship, the school broadened its international reach and became known as the world leader in hospitality management education,” stated a hotel school press release.

Butler highlighted Beck’s roles as student, professor and dean, as well as “visiting lecturer, adviser and friend” to the school.

“The Becks always made the students their first priority. Their home became an extension of Statler Hall, with students affectionately referring to it as ‘the Slaterville Hilton,'” he noted. The impetus for the Beck Center began in 1997 under the direction of Dean David Dittman. He and his team realized the need for more space — “space that [supported] the way our faculty teaches and our students learn now and for the foreseeable future … space that facilitated interactive learning … space that supported extensive use of instructional technology,” Butler said.

“In short, we needed to create for our faculty and students a premier learning environment for the 21st century,” he concluded.

Christine Carstensen, project manager for the Beck Center and for Cornell’s Planning, Design and Construction division, said, “the Beck Center addition allow[s] the opportunity for the existing physical building of the School of Hotel Administration to establish a new image, a welcoming icon for the School [that] reinforce[es] an open and inviting sense of hospitality.” The project also included the renovation of the Alice Statler auditorium, home to many community events and concerts, as well as Hotel School and non-Hotel School courses and lectures.

“I really like the design of the new center, and when I have to go to the older classrooms, it’s like awwww. … The lounges make group meetings very easy. The projectors and A.V. parts in the classrooms are definitely great,” said Kendra Barron grad. She added that the “one downfall” of the center, however, is that “for some reason it is hard for the professors to hear us.”

The $16.2 million Beck Center project was made possible by the financial contributions of more than 450 people and organizations, foremost among them the Atlantic Philanthropies.

Archived article by Cathy Xiaowei Tang
Sun Staff Writer