The University of Connecticut Financial Accelerator

July 12, 2005
Business Education on a Fast Track


Project Quick Facts

Cost: $20 million value  ($3 million for AV equipment and labor)

Award Winners:
Konover Construction
Schoenhardt Architecture + Interior Design
The UCONN School of Business

By Maureen Patterson

To succeed in the business world, companies must distinguish themselves from their competitors. They must prove that they have a unique product or service that is better than the rest. The same holds true for educational institutions. They must convince prospective students that their school offers things the others don’t.

Rich Dino, associate dean of graduate programs at the University of Connecticut (UCONN) School of Business, read the mission statements of many competitors, and they all sounded alike. He and his colleagues wanted the UCONN School of Business to stand out from the rest. After talking with students, faculty, and business leaders, they decided to offer students real-world experience - in the form of what is called “experiential learning” - in addition to classroom instruction.

They teamed with businesses to provide learning “accelerators.”

“The concept is to accelerate the capture of knowledge in the solutions to business problems in a very special way,” says Dino. “That is by colocating students, faculty, and business partners, having them work in teams to a productive end.”

A company will come to UCONN with a problem: say, for example, finding a market niche for its product. It sends executives into the school to work with students on the problem. The faculty, students, and company executives solve the problem using the latest knowledge and research. The executives receive an innovative solution while meeting a new pool of talent for recruiting. It’s a win-win-win.

Company executives who toured UCONN’s accelerators liked what they saw. Among them was chairman and CEO of SS&C Technologies Bill Stone, who asked Dino if they could create a learning accelerator in Hartford, CT, a city once known for its insurance cluster and now known for its emerging financial services sector. The two started working on a possible SS&C sponsorship of a 10,000-square-foot space for an accelerator program in downtown Hartford.

The partnership was a good fit. SS&C Technologies provides the financial services industry with a range of specialized software, outsourcing services, and application services. It also delivers mission-critical processing for information management, analysis, trading, accounting, reporting, and compliance. In short, its business represents the sweet spot of the financial services industry emerging in Hartford.

But there were problems with the existing Hartford facility. Dino recalls that one day, the director of UCONN’s MBA program called to complain that his 1950s-era building “was in dire need of updating and repair. He called to complain about the carpet, which was all soiled and ripped, and we had no budget money to fix it.”

Dino says he woke up in the middle of the night with a solution: Why not locate the Hartford MBA program and the accelerator program in the same downtown facility? “Instead of going for 10,000 square feet, we went for 40,000 square feet, and the rest is history.”

While Dino had no budget when he first approached contractors, he secured partnerships that resulted in a $20 million build out.

A Career Project

When architect Bill Clegg, managing partner at Schoenhardt Architecture + Interior Design, heard about the endeavor, he says he knew it would enhance the reputations of both his firm and his community. “I believed that this project was one that would truly help to change this part of Hartford,” he says. “It ... had the kind of excitement and buzz that I know was right for the town, and that it was just something that I wanted to get involved in.”

The timeframe was brutal. Tony Maselli, project executive at Konover Construction, recalls, “It was a very complex project, by schedule standards, because we had to design and build within a 4?- to 5-month period. It was very tough, because it wasn’t a complete gut; we had occupants in the building already.”

In fact, Dino recalls that, “When we introduced the project timeline, everybody laughed.”

In addition to the rough timeline, there was an enormous amount of work to be done. To create a real-world business environment for the students, UCONN partnered with SS&C, Nortel Networks, Steelcase, BKM Total Office, Thomson Financial, developer Capital Properties Inc., and others to acquire the best technology these companies had to offer.

Smart Classrooms

UCONN agreed to a 12-year lease for the bottom four floors of the 18-story Hartford facility. The project team started with the third and fourth floors, then unoccupied, turning former office space into classrooms and meeting areas.

They used Steelcase Pathways products to efficiently retrofit the high-tech spaces. Three-inch raised flooring holds most of the wire and data, eliminating the need for many poke-throughs, yet is comfortable for users. “When you walk on it, you would never know it’s a raised floor, because it’s solid. It doesn’t echo the way a lot of raised floors will do,” says Clegg. Because the flooring is level, people in wheelchairs are not confined to the front of the room.

Steelcase and installer BKM Total Office tiered the classroom furniture, with each row of furniture 3 inches higher than the row before, so that people sitting in the back rows have a clear view of the instructor. Yet, the floor is level. “When you walk in a room you look and you see this tiered room but it’s an optical illusion,” says Dino.

PolyVision LTX whiteboards in the front of the rooms have several state-of-the-art features: They can be manually written on with a special marker, and anything on an occupant’s computer, including Web pages, can be projected onto the board. A person could even write notes on the board over a PowerPoint presentation. In addition, anything written on the board can be saved to student computers or even a website. Many MBA students also work full time, so this feature comes in handy when they must miss class.

“Anything you can do on your computer, you can do on this whiteboard,” Clegg says. “You can get on the Internet, you can print, you can e-mail, you can drag and drop, anything!”

This technology benefits students, says UCONN faculty member Michael Vertefeuille, also the school’s director of technology: “Having the ‘smartboards’ allows students to be able to pay more attention in class and not have to worry about taking notes directly.”

RoomWizards, or electronic reservation systems, allow people outside the room to see whether it is occupied and to reserve a room either at the door or remotely.

Every seat in the 14 classrooms has a 10/100 cabled Ethernet connection, as well as wireless connectivity. “Having the students have direct Internet access at every seat allows me to do things in the classroom that I normally wouldn’t do,” says Vertefeuille. For example, when he gives a lecture on a company, he can have students research websites and present their findings right away.

The UCONN space includes more than 1,300 connections, allowing users to plug and play just about anywhere, as well as an encrypted wireless network infrastructure that can not just block but hunt down and shut out rogue systems or hackers.

In addition, it contains a load-balancing system. When too many users are on a typical wireless setup, the network will start to slow. Not here. The UCONN facility will bump some users to other nodes, allowing all computers to connect at optimal speeds. The transition is seamless, so users are not aware of the technology at work.

And there’s little danger of the equipment failing. “Everything is fully redundant, very high-speed connections. We have battery back-up, generator back-up, redundant cooling, and every data connection has a redundant link as well,” says Vertefeuille. “We also have a state-of-the-art IP [VoIP] phone system, as well as a next-generation voice/video/data application communication system that users can remotely connect with each other and pretty much do anything they want.”

Nortel Networks provided the entire network infrastructure.

The “Wow” Factor

Most visitors cannot appreciate the amazing array of technological capabilities this facility offers because they can’t see it. Wires are concealed inside floors and walls. Redundancy is invisible.

But some of the equipment is sure to wow even a tech novice.

One is the 12- by 15-foot Trans-Lux video screen and the 250-foot stock market zipper on the building’s exterior, bringing a Times Square look to downtown Hartford. Installing it in a tight 2-day timeframe proved to be a challenge. “We’re in the middle of the city, in an insurance area, where you have tons of people going in and out of this area, the plaza, all day long, so coordination was very difficult,” Maselli recalls.

His team had to remove four or five panels on more than 12 floors of the façade to bring in crucial equipment. With only one elevator for all the trades and some massive parts that wouldn’t fit in it anyway, the project team had to think outside the box to make their deadline.

Inside, in the financial accelerator space, a media wall and ticker stream real-time news and business information to occupants. A live financial feed from Thomson Financial provides real-time data from several different exchanges. Those who have access to the accelerator must have their retinas scanned before entering the space.

Unlike the classrooms, in which most wiring is discretely out of sight, much of the technology in the accelerator is displayed openly. Because UCONN wanted to showcase its converged AV and data networks, 18 racks of equipment in the main server room are displayed behind a 60-foot-long stretch of fire-rated, safety-proof glass panels on the second floor.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the project was that this high-tech renovation and expansion took only 5 months to complete, a feat that Maselli says was accomplished with thorough preplanning. He suggests the key to success in any such project is to understand not only the details of the facility, including mechanical, electrical, and plumbing, but also how all the key systems will interact. “I would say that the proper thing to do is to staff the project right, with the proper amount of people. There’s never enough people on a job like that.”

It certainly worked for UCONN. Since the building opened last school year, students have created both operational risk and financial dashboards for investment operations executives to measure critical metrics of a business on a real-time basis. And that was just the first semester. “From a technological perspective, because of the infrastructure that’s there, there is nothing that we cannot do,” says Dino.

He couldn’t be more pleased. “It’s absolutely amazing what you can accomplish ... when everyone is aligned and everybody believes it’s worth doing,” he says.



Impulse LTX interactive whiteboards


Walk-and-Talk mobile interactive touchscreen


RoomWizard room scheduling equipment


PowerLite 7250 multimedia projectors


CO5 document cameras


custom LED displays


PictureWall full-color displays


Total Office projection screen



Sponsored Recommendations

Flooring Trends, Technology and Sustainability with Mannington Commercial

Mannington's VP of commercial design, Roby Isaac, talks about what to expect in design trends, how technology is shaping flooring products and the company's latest push for purpose...

An All-Star Team Reimagines the Historic Fulton Fish Market

The 1907 Tin Building travels seaward to its now Pier 17 location as Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest culinary endeavor, carried by fellow New Yorkers designers Roman and Williams...

ASID Report Examines the Rise of Adaptive Reuse

Read on to see which CRE markets are benefiting and how are they riding the renovation wave.

The November IG Takeover: CRÈME Architecture & Design

Get to know founder Jun Aizaki and learn how you can host a takeover of your own.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of I+S Design, create an account today!