Shan Sutton, dean of libraries at the University of Arizona, has one of the toughest jobs in academia: convincing thousands of digital native Gen-Z students that sprawling academic libraries are still relevant to their studies and aspirations. A recent overhaul of U of A’s library system and student services facilities led by The Miller Hull Partnership in association with Poster Mirto McDonald aims to help make that connection.
At U of A, the Main Library is a brutalist 1970s-era building with three wings that Sutton calls “pods.” This building, along with the nearby 1970s Weaver Science-Engineering Library, have been integrated with the historic Bear Down Gymnasium and brand-new, LEED Gold–certified Barlett Academic Success Center into a new 6-acre campus quarter christened the Student Success District (SSD). Its aim is not only to make libraries more accessible and useful, but to bring all of the student service functions into a single venue aimed at supporting students toward graduation.
The University of Arizona Student Success District (SSD) was completed in Spring 2022 and occupies pride of place on the university’s Main Mall, a linear green space that leads to Old Main, the university’s original landmark building. Architecture and interior design were by the Miller Hull Partnership in association with Poster Mirto McDonald. Ten Eyck Landscape Architects provided outdoor landscape and hardscape services and the entire endeavor was a design/build project with Sundt Construction.
“Before the Student Success District, the individual buildings were functioning and well used, but isolated and to themselves,” says Miller Hull partner Ben Dalton, head of the firm’s San Diego studio. He says that tying the new and renovated buildings together with landscaping and hardscape, especially the outdoor spaces called paseos—a nod to Arizona’s Spanish history—was key to the design team’s strategy.
“The [University of Arizona] Student Success District pools all student services into a single place. By joining these structures, we’ve amplified the district’s impact,” Sutton agrees. They’ve also created a new center of student life on campus that puts an emphasis on learning, wellbeing, and indoor-outdoor connections.
The University of Arizona Student Success District has an alphabet soup of student-centered services: STEM Academic and Research Support; SOS (A Place for Asking Any Question); SALT—Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques; and so on. One of the most innovative is called CATalyst Studio, a play on the university’s mascot, the Wildcats.
“CATalyst studio is located on the lower level of one of the Main Library’s pods,” Sutton explains. “It is a space for making things and features 3D printing, laser cutting, and virtual reality software. We are giving students the opportunity to learn by designing. We’ve had students change their majors due to their experience in CATalyst Studio.” The studio is open to all regardless of their current realm of study, be it the humanities, business school, or architecture school, the latter known as CAPLA (College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture).
Both libraries were given a makeover to create more space of engagement. Catharine Killien, an architect in Miller Hull’s Seattle office, says: “An academic library today needs to have all kinds of learning landscapes, modes of study to support the different kind of work students are doing.” With that in mind, lower levels of the Main Library were given over to group study and connected to outdoor settings, while upper floors offer quiet study and access U of A’s 8.6 million print volumes, electronic books, and journals. The Science-Engineering Library was given a new lobby and entrance that integrates it fully into the SSD.
Bear Down Gymnasium, a 1926 building that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, now offers mental health counseling, dining options, and even basketball courts. “Bear Down was a mixing pot of uses that no one took ownership of,” Dalton says. Now it’s a student-centric space that is conceived as an extension of the one new building in the SSD, Bartlett Academic Success Center. Bartlett, whose program is more attuned to academic success as opposed to Bear Down’s personal counseling, ties the district together.
Tying services together is exactly the idea behind the entire complex, explains Dalton, who reports that “throughout the Student Success District we focused on both horizontal and vertical connection. We took buildings from different architectural eras and at different levels and made them into a cohesive district.” Sutton points out what’s really at stake with forging new connections on campus—academic achievement. “All of the new library spaces are designed for collaborative learning and deep digital engagement,” he says.
meet the team
We’re inspired by diverse design perspectives, innovation, technology, art, and the world around us. We live for the chance to create and disperse powerful, genuine messages that resonate.
Growing up in Seattle, Amy was always exploring the great outdoors but she found a particular thrill in traveling. During a visit to New York City at age 10, she knew that was where she wanted to live. After high school she left her home in the Pacific Northwest behind for the great unknown to attend Fordham University in the Bronx. Upon graduation, Amy received a phone call from CNN offering a job opportunity of a lifetime working in television ad sales at Manhattan's Time Warner Center. When a job opportunity in Los Angeles opened up a few years later, Amy couldn't say no to a new adventure back on the west coast. But Seattle eventually called her back home and Amy returned to pursue a Master's degree in Business Administration with the hopes of learning the skills she needed to feed her entrepreneurial spirit. Before graduating, Amy co-founded Paxson Fay with Tessa Andrews in 2015. Amy focuses on marketing strategy, public relations, social media, and partnerships.
Tessa graduated from Fordham University in New York with a dual bachelor's degree in Communications and Political Science. During her time at Fordham, she worked for an interior designer and at NBC News where she developed her love for both design and communications. After graduating, Tessa managed marketing at 3form, a pioneer in the sustainable building products industry. During her tenure, 3form was repeatedly named one of the most recognized manufacturers in the design industry among architects and designers, and the company won multiple awards for its innovative product launches. After 3form, Tessa consulted on marketing efforts with leading product manufacturers in architecture and design before starting Paxson Fay with Amy.
After graduating from Fordham University in New York City with a major in Communications and Media Studies and a handful of marketing and PR internships, Colby moved to Boston to manage marketing for a small, women-owned, creative consulting agency. While in that role, Colby managed public relations and marketing efforts for some of Boston's most prominent events and public art initiatives, including the Boston Pickle Fair and The Bulfinch Crossing Projections in downtown Boston. Colby gained experience crafting brand stories and identities through social media marketing and creative copywriting, seen through the successful launch of a premier Massachusetts adult-use dispensary and the revamp of her agency's own website. After two years, Colby decided it was time to figure out what the West Coast was all about. Looking to blend her marketing experience with her passion for design and architecture, Colby found Paxson Fay, where she focuses on social media strategy and management and public relations.
Originally from Spokane, Washington, Stasha relocated to Seattle after completing her studies in communications at Eastern Washington University. Over the past seven years, she has held various communication roles at Amazon, specializing in crisis communication and brand reputation. In June of 2023, Stasha joined Paxson Fay as a Communications Specialist, providing her with the opportunity to blend her communications expertise with her passion for design. Stasha focuses on PR efforts for a variety of clients at Paxson Fay.
We are looking for a star communications specialist to join our team, leading creative brands in their communications efforts across platforms. Click here to read more.
what we do
We are a communications firm founded in our passion for good design. Our unique approach to marketing and public relations in the architecture and design community has elevated our clients work to the next level. We’re backed by a talented community of creatives. From copywriters to social media experts, we provide a complete package of customized services. We strive to create a personal experience with each client, integrating teams and tackling your biggest marketing and public relations challenges from a high level. Then we help execute those plans ensuring lots of reporting along the way, with lots of coffee breaks in between because we’re from Seattle and that’s what we do.
partnerships acquisition and management
media communications and outreach
awards: strategy, content development and submissions
platform strategy and management
results + reporting
budget strategy + negotiation
website and e-mail marketing
video: sourcing, storyboarding and scheduling
photography acquisition + curation
sponsorships + partnerships
Here is a little taste of who we love to work with and what we love to do.