Carleton’s $65-million business school steps onto world stage

Nicol Building
The Nicol Building, the new home of Carleton's Sprott School of Business, officially opened on Tuesday. Photo by Mark Holleron

The way Dana Brown sees it, the Nicol Building in the heart of Carleton University’s campus is a $65-million statement to the world: the school is open for business.

That makes sense, considering that Brown is the dean of Carleton’s Sprott School of Business and the Nicol Building is Sprott’s new home. But Brown views the new structure, which officially opened to students and staff this week, as an invitation for the wider business world to finally take notice of an institution that she says has flown under the radar.

“We’re almost like a diamond in the rough,” says Brown, who joined Carleton’s faculty two years ago after a 20-year career in business education that’s taken her to more than 60 countries. 

“We need to be discovered a little bit more. This is a darned good business school. I want to see it really thrive and the world to know about us. To me, this building is kind of like, ‘We’re coming out into the world.’”

Lead architect and Carleton grad Doron Meinhard’s team from Toronto-based Hariri Pontarini Architects toured several business schools in Canada and the U.S. before crafting a curving design with staircases that wind through open spaces aimed at encouraging students and their professors to gather freely and exchange ideas.

"We’ve created spaces where students can gather. We want the students to no longer be bound by the classroom in the way that they learn."

It’s a far cry from Sprott’s previous home in nearby Dunton Tower, where students and staff were scattered throughout the building in an atmosphere that did little to generate unity, Brown says.

The new building “gives that sense of, ‘I’m part of something, I’m part of a community,’” she explains. “We’ve created spaces where students can gather. We want the students to no longer be bound by the classroom in the way that they learn. We want them to be learning in the world, solving problems. I think that's really great.” 

The six-storey, 100,000-square-foot building’s centrepiece is its innovation hub. Located near the main entrance, the area includes a startup incubator and meeting space for events such as hackathons and pitchfests. 

The hub will be open to students from all disciplines with entrepreneurial dreams, says director Harry Sharma. 

As an example, he cites the school’s plan to launch a three-month program that will link journalism students and Sprott professors with the aim of incubating “the next vox.com.”

“When we talk about inclusivity, it’s not just the diversity of ventures that we’re creating,” he says. “It’s also the diversity of students that we’re serving – it’s students from all fields, from all backgrounds who are coming to this space.”

Glass-walled classrooms

Aside from the main 250-seat lecture hall, most of the glass-walled classrooms are smaller rooms where students can congregate at round tables in groups of five or six. Flat screens are ready to beam in remote learners and cameras are set up to follow professors around.

Brown says the school has been trying to forge stronger partnerships with the Ottawa business community, and she hopes the Nicol Building will help accelerate those efforts. She envisions it being a place where founders, CEOs, city planners and other business leaders can mingle, providing a real-world perspective that Sprott’s 2,700 students can’t get from a textbook.

“I don’t want (students) to only learn in the four walls of a classroom,” she says. “I want them to go out to a small business and understand how they operate, work with them and learn how to problem-solve on the job. We really want to be on the cutting edge of pedagogy and create this really dynamic learning environment.”