Are you experienced?
By Jessica Ullian
In an underground chamber beneath Morse Auditorium, hundreds of students, faculty, and alumni are waiting to lure prospective students to Boston University. Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) is there, as are actress Faye Dunaway (CFA’62) and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel (Hon.’74), a BU professor. The Charles River runs along one wall, and the new hockey rink at the Agganis Arena is visible on another.
Welcome to the Experience Room, a new recruitment and promotional tool that literally surrounds viewers with the sounds and images of the University. In a 20-minute presentation that covers history, academics, and plans for the future, visitors get an in-depth look at BU, presented in a wide-screen, high-definition, appropriately impressive format.
“It’s a wonderful tool to give people, in a nutshell, the history and fiber of Boston University,” says Peter Fiedler, an assistant vice president in the Office of the Executive Vice President. “And it’s done from the people’s perspective. It’s not just buildings and numbers.”
The Experience Room, a two-year, $2 million construction project funded through a gift from John Hancock Financial Services, was created to showcase the University’s attributes and maintain its status as a major player in the increasingly competitive university recruitment process. Using three key words to describe BU — “daring,” “intellectual,” and “diverse” — the program examines the University’s role in the past, present, and future with a blend of information and entertainment.
As visitors enter, key moments in the University’s history are projected onto a paneled glass wall, and video interviews with students, faculty, and alumni are broadcast onto three projection cubes, stacked to create a life-sized image of the people on film. The video, Fiedler says, was shot using three cameras to capture the full-body view.
The next stage — a chronicle of the University’s past — is displayed on three of the four vast screens that cover the main section of the room, surrounding the groups with the words and images of well-known alumni, such as Barbara Jordan (LAW’59, Hon.’69), a former Texas state senator and U.S. congresswoman who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Edgar Helms (STH1889), the founder of Goodwill Industries. The segment ends with a panel of highly recognizable names that stretches across three screens.
On the last screen, visitors are shown a high-definition video that focuses on two student-faculty friendships, a Pulitzer-winning alumnus, and the construction of the new Student Village and Agganis Arena. The whole system is run by eight computers and four projectors, which are wired into the BU Police Department for added after-hours security.
While giving due attention to the University’s growth and new facilities, the heart of the presentation centers on the achievements of current students and recent graduates. A segment about former graduate student Scott Jarrett (CFA’99,’04) and Ann Howard Jones, the CFA director of choral activities, shows them conducting at Tanglewood. In another, chemistry major Gobind Singh (CAS’04) says that John Caradonna, a CAS associate professor of chemistry, “takes on a fatherly role.”
Also featured is Pulitzer Prize–winner Mark Thompson (COM’75), a Time magazine national security correspondent, who says that BU “accelerated my development as a person” and “gave me the key to drive the car that is my career.”
The last segment features President ad interim Aram Chobanian, Executive Vice President Joseph Mercurio, and Senior Vice President Richard Towle discussing how the new Student Village will unite a campus that in the past has been physically divided by Storrow Drive and the Massachusetts Turnpike.
“We really can’t rest on our laurels,” Chobanian says. “If we did that, we would fall behind.”
The Experience Room made its debut at a Board of Trustees meeting this past April, and it was used on admissions tours throughout the summer. Prospective students have loved it, says Jacqueline Serafino, associate director of the Office of Admissions. “The Experience Room, in my mind, really gives people a nice historical perspective of the University, and all the different achievements that the University has seen, and the people who have made this the diverse and exciting place that it’s been,” she says. “It’s a nice balance of history and the here and now.”
Fiedler says it is also intended for receptions, meetings, employee orientations, and fundraising, and is available to any school or department. “The potential return on investment is huge,” he adds.
In the dark room underneath Morse Auditorium, walled with screens and speakers, the potential of BU’s community seems huge as well. “It just opened all pathways,” one of the students profiled says of her BU education. “I can do anything now.”