The Basic Skills Student Outcomes and Transformation team didn’t waste time waiting to see if their grant would be approved.

They polled students, fellow instructors, administrators and poured over data trying to create as ideal a learning environment as possible. It allowed them to hit the ground running when they were awarded $1.5 million in July of 2016.

The newly opened Interdisciplinary Literacy Centers in Merced and Los Banos are the results of that collaborative effort, providing the Merced College student base a comfortable space to interact with peers and faculty alike while utilizing some of the best technology on campus.

The Literacy Centers are open five days a week and are available to any students working on writing or reading assignments. The goal of the ILC is to help stu­dents become better readers, writers and thinkers across all disciplines.  

“Technologically, it’s probably one of the most, if not the most, advanced places on campus,” said Vince Piro, Dean of English and Humanities. “We have a ton of power outlets, because power is premium for students. We have TV screens that you can actually project to from laptops so students can collaborate at a booth. We have laptops that students can check out. We invested in extra Wi-Fi, so everything is very fast. We have both black and white and color printing.

“We acknowledge that technology is a big part of how students learn these days. But to balance that, we also have face-to-face support with peer mentors and one or two faculty members that are always there.”

The Merced campus’ 2,700-square-foot space is brightly colored with new, comfortable furniture and a variety of study areas to accommodate students working solo or in small groups. The Literacy Center can seat 88 students, has five desktop computers, 30 Revolve touchscreen notebooks that can be checked out, plus numerous outlets and USB ports if students want to bring their own laptops. There are also white boards and a couple of flat screen TVs available for groups work.

“Just the interactions I’ve had with the students in the first two weeks, they’re absolutely loving the technology we have available,” said Jessica Moran, Director of Student Outcomes Transformational Program. “I didn’t realize that having a screen that swivels or having it turn into a tablet with a touch screen would be such a hit.

“They were also amazed when their phones were dying that we had so many places they could plug in their chargers, so they’re really liking it so far.”

The student reaction isn’t entirely a surprise. Working with Darden Architects out of Fresno, the BSSOT team used a good deal of student suggestions to help transform the space.

 “I think one of the things that students have really responded to is we sat down and curated a space based off of their input and what they said they were looking for,” Professor Denise Rempel said. “I think that we’ve done a really good job of listening to students and creating a space that’s uniquely designed for them.

“One of the other big things is a number of our students don’t have safe places at home. Their family life is hectic or they’re taking care of siblings or parents. When you don’t have the most stable of home lives, it’s nice to give them a stable place on campus where they can come and get their work done.”

The low-pressure atmosphere is also a big draw.

“Students seem to like that if they don’t need any help, they can just come in and work,” Professor Sean Epstein-Corbin said. “But at the same time, the support is always there if they need it. So they don’t necessarily need to come seeking help, but if they come and get stuck, it’ll kind of find them.”

Happy as the BSSOT team is with the realization of over a year’s worth of work, they said the ILC will be ever evolving.

“The idea is to make it as helpful to the students as possible,” Moran said. “We’re going to talk to the students using it. We’re going to look at the data in terms of the hours and services we’re providing. There’s still some things we want to add and we’ll make adjustments as we go.”