An uncommon space

A hope for the future

A wall plaque inside Gardner Commons shares Carolyn and Kem Gardners’ hope that students who study and learn in the space will:

  • Be open to ideas and free from prejudices with a desire to continue learning, thinking critically and writing persuasively throughout their lives
  • Appreciate the social, historical and cultural heritage that is the basis of our society
  • Embrace a global perspective that recognizes the equality of all
  • Strive to better humanity through service
  • Think deeply about philosophy, religion and the purpose of our existence here on earth
  • Cultivate strong interpersonal relationships with family, friends and others who enrich their lives
  • Live interesting and fulfilling lives, enjoying current events, politics, sports, literature, art and music

There was no traditional ribbon cutting for the official dedication of the Carolyn and Kem Gardner Commons building on Friday.

Instead, two glittery red ribbons—held by President Ruth V. Watkins, Carolyn and Kem Gardner and their children and student leaders—were stretched out and then tied together, a symbolic representation of the interdisciplinary collaboration that will be the focus of the U’s newest student classroom building.

“As we all know, projects like this don’t just happen,” Watkins said. “They come into being because of the vision and the commitment of loyal alumni and friends. And the University of Utah has no better friends than Carolyn and Kem Gardner. The incredible programs and student spaces housed here would, quite simply, not exist today without their foresight and generosity.

“For decades to come, students will gather here to learn, to advance their educations, and perhaps, just as you two did, meet someone special who becomes a partner for life,” the president said.

Construction of Gardner Commons began two years ago; it opened for fall semester. The building replaces Orson Spencer Hall, which for 60-plus years served as the main classroom building for the University of Utah.

The new building is the home of the College of Social and Behavioral Science—the largest college at the U—and many other entities, including the Hinckley Institute of Politics, the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, the Office for Global Engagement and the Welcome and Student Success centers.

The building features hundreds of study spaces, 37 classrooms, 13 conference rooms, two auditoriums, science labs and its own food court—Carolyn’s Kitchen.

It also houses the new Wasatch Front Secure Data Center, one of only 31 sites in the nation providing researchers and state leaders access to data on housing, health and economics. A new center also located here—the Interdisciplinary Exchange for Utah Science, or NEXUS—is designed to facilitate collaborative work on grand societal challenges.

Gardner Commons incorporates numerous sustainability features. It is completely electric-based, uses renewable energy and is heated and cooled by the first and only geothermal ground-source heat pump on campus, which is expected to save more than $70,000 annually in energy costs.

“On behalf of the students of the University of Utah, I would like to thank Carolyn and Kem Gardner and our other donors for their incredibly generous donations to make our campus an even better place,” said Connor Morgan, ASUU student body president and a political science major. “Thank you for helping to give us a space where current and future students will be able to discover their passions, gain opportunities and make an impact on the world.”

The Gardners met while undergraduates at the U; Carolyn received a degree in education, while Kem received degrees in political science and law. They have been generous supporters of the U, but this new building is especially meaningful to them.

“We hope that University of Utah students will enjoy learning from great professors just as we did and we know they will make and create wonderful memories and look back on their time here as one of great fulfillment and enjoyment just as we have,” Carolyn Gardner said. “When I think back on our years here as students. Struggling, and as poor as we were to get by to get our degrees, never ever in our wildest dreams did we ever think that one day the university would honor us with our names on such a wonderful building.”

Cindy Berg, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science, described the building as innovative in design and intent. It is designed so that intellectual exchanges among students and faculty may occur on every floor, she said.

“Central to the building is that we as a community of students, faculty, and staff are agents of change and in order to make that change we need to do it together,” Berg said. “You’ll see this vision in the informal gathering spaces throughout the building. Laboratories are open so students can see the knowledge creation process and to be part of it.

“For all of you who have invested in this building through your philanthropy and your time, your investment will literally touch the lives of faculty and students for years to come—faculty and students who are the next wave of change makers in the world,” she said.

Amy Loret, a student in both the School of Cultural and Social Transformation and the College of Social and Behavioral Science, said the building will provide opportunities that are “vital to student success. By helping to break down silos between departments and offices, they will help students have more successful careers at the University of Utah.”

In his remarks, Kem Gardner recalled all the “great teachers” and friends he met at the U who continue to make an impact in his life. A university experience, he said, goes on throughout your life—not just here on the campus.

“My hope for this building is that it will continue to house great teachers who are passionate and inspiring and know their subject matter but love students and want to see students succeed and above all teachers that will have an open-door policy,” Kem Gardner said. “Students will feel their influence throughout their lives. I had those teachers here.”