Gensler ‘Dialogues’ Discussion Recap

I jumpstarted my morning by braving some light snow flurries today (March 20th…) to attend a panel discussion curated by world-renowned architecture firm Gensler at their offices in downtown Chicago.

The discussion centered upon ongoing developments in the active lifestyles of college students, especially in the area of the increased focus on wellness in the workplace. In other words, studying how incubators, co-working spaces, and classrooms can contribute to the well-being of the changing life of a college student.

This was very intriguing to me because I was constantly recalling upon personal experiences of working in college, and even in high school, during the discussion. I even reflected that in the four short years since graduating college that the presence and popularity of incubators and co-working spaces are much higher than when I was in school. I did seek out a coffee shop back then from time to time to escape my non-naturally lit studio apartment so that I can work in a more productive setting, but today these spaces are becoming common, high-energy meet-ups for collaborating. I personally enjoy 1871 at the Merchandise Mart — an incubator that balances communal and solitary workplaces and is an example of how the built design’s focus is becoming more aware of the occupant’s wellness.

The esteemed trio on the panel all brought different perspectives to the conversation — Cristina BanksDavid Schonthal, and Lisa Currie, MSEd (see full credentials below) — and they each have direct, day-to-day experiences with college students that lead to their understanding of their behavior. Banks and Schonthal are both professors (Banks at University of Cal-Berkeley, Schonthal at Northwestern) and the latter acknowledged trends like students in liberal arts programs working with a more well-rounded area of expertise versus students in business programs. The seclusion to different majors in business school is part of the college lifestyle that Schonthal wishes would be more open to overlap with other programs in colleges because he’s seen first-hand the value of co-working spaces. Working from 8 or 9 different lenses, as the diverse liberal arts students do together, as opposed to 1 or 2 is a universally greater perspective to approach a problem.

Banks had a couple of great points of analysis on the relationship between students and universities. For instance, students approach college as a stepping stone to get a job in their career path over learning something new for pure fulfillment. Universities enable this by putting too much emphasis on getting assignments done and she wishes there was more of an effort to link concepts to experiences (like Currie’s example of the Northwestern Dance Marathon for charity). I was resonating with this point of view that I actually felt during high school, when I was just trying to get assignments done to get the grades to get into a college. I hope more faculty members unify into this direction to create more of a shift into having personal experiences to learn concepts and lessons.

All in all, it was a great discussion that I hope if you’re reading this spurs some thought into your current well-being in the workplace. After all, the first question we were all asked was to “Think about your first workplace.” Basically, what did you like? Dislike? And what would you change?

It’s only natural that Gensler curated the panel discussion, which is right in line with one of the firm’s most progressive outlooks: wellness in design. Today’s discussion was part 2 of Gensler’s Dialogues with Gensler 3-part series: Well-being on the Academic Campus. You can stay tuned to, their Dialogues publication (a very engaging visual read), and here on Gowhere as they turn-around more photos and discussion on their website.

Cristina BanksPhD, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces, a global center for research of employee health and well-being, and Senior Lecturer at the Haas School of Business teaching Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management.

David Schonthal, Clinical Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Kellogg School of Management and co-founder and partner at Fusion Ventures, an investment and advisory firm focused on growing startups in the early stages of development.

Lisa Currie, MSEd, Director of Health Promotion and Wellness at Northwestern University, whose work focuses on leading campus-wide initiatives and creating environments that support healthy lifestyle choices. With a background in college student development, she has a particular interest in the impact of culture and social media on health behavior.