Masterful McCord Hall: Optimizing graduate business education

Reprinted from the inaugural publication of W. P. Carey magazine in Fall 2013. 

Curving around McCord Hall’s patio are storefront glass walls that reflect the W. P. Carey School’s graduate community: students moving between classes, clustering around tables and catching a few quiet minutes on their laptops. The windows are one of the striking architectural features of this long-awaited building, but it’s the reflections themselves that reveal why McCord Hall is so significant. It is designed specifically for top-ranked graduate business education.

“McCord Hall is a physical representation of our standing as a business school, and it signals the importance of graduate education here,” said Dean Amy Hillman. “The building design is memorable, unique and innovative, and at the same time it embraces our place. That’s a pretty good analogy for the W. P. Carey School: we are innovative and entrepreneurial in the world of business schools, yet we embrace our place within ASU and the desert southwest, as well as our obligation to the community.”

Breaking ground on the 129,000 square foot facility in October 2011 was made possible by $20 million in donations with a generous lead gift made by Sharon Dupont McCord and her late husband Bob McCord. W. P. Carey staff moved their offices across the 1,800 square foot patio from the existing business buildings in late June and the first classes convened in August.

Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates designed the building, working with RSP Architects and DPR Construction. McCord Hall houses W. P. Carey Graduate Programs, the undergraduate Leaders Academy, the Center for Services Leadership and Executive Education. Inside you’ll find classrooms designed for graduate teaching methods, space for student teams to work, and lounges where students from various programs can study, relax and network. The corporate recruiting area includes numerous interview rooms, and the building’s open, flexible plan enables the school to host conferences, lectures and receptions.

“McCord Hall is the optimal building for achieving our mission, because it has allowed us to focus on building classrooms and learning environments that not only facilitate the way students learn best, but also the way they need to work when they get into their careers,” said Stacey Whitecotton, associate professor in the School of Accountancy.

The W. P. Carey graduate community

Enter any of the doors on the ground floor of the South Wing and you’ll experience McCord Hall’s graduate education design. The classrooms are like suites: from the patio you step into a vestibule that leads to a tiered classroom. Desks are arranged in a horseshoe, encouraging the discussion and teamwork that is the hallmark of graduate study. The vestibule also provides access to team rooms: work spaces designed for small groups that are fitted with those ubiquitous, erasable white writing surfaces — including poster-size boards that can be carried back into the classroom for presentations.

The proximity of team rooms to classrooms allows professors to divide students into small groups that accentuate the learning process outside the larger classroom, Whitecotton says. This increases interactivity, but it also enables instructors to break up long classes into a variety of activities. That’s especially important for students in programs for working professionals, where classes can run four to eight hours long. More importantly, Dean Hillman points out, the discussion and small group work enabled by the McCord Hall design prepares students to succeed not only because they’ve mastered content, but also because they’ve experienced the modern working style: collaboration, discussion and input.

When students are not in class, McCord Hall offers several study lounges and even more of those team rooms for group projects. A 24-foot flat screen display in the Avnet Information Center will accommodate presentations and maybe even a Super Bowl party! And with a Freshii café on the first floor, students can find everything they need without leaving McCord Hall.

Whitecotton said that the comfortable common areas throughout the building will help W. P. Carey achieve one of its chief objectives: nurturing a robust graduate community culture that encompasses all of the W. P. Carey graduate programs. Students will make friends with people in other programs because they will meet them around the building. Those friendships will result in a richer education as students learn about other disciplines, and once into their careers, these grad school contacts will evolve into lifelong professional networks.

“One of the benefits of an MBA program is having off-the-cuff conversations with people from different backgrounds and experiences. Physical space can facilitate those conversations,” said W. P. Carey Full-time MBA student Ryan Anderson. “The casual work space in McCord Hall opens up lines of sight to more people.”

McCord Hall by the numbers


  • 1,300 – 1,600 graduate students
  • 393 classes
  • 75 staff members


  • 14 classrooms
  • 58 team rooms
  • 65 open work stations
  • 10 interview roomos
  • 14 office suites
  • 4 lounges

The building also accommodates programs for executives. Amphitheater and flat-floor classrooms, team rooms, lounge and event space provide self-contained learning facilities ideal for the highly-engaging, discussion-based learning and networking which are characteristics of the school’s executive programs. The space provides a great atmosphere for the school’s Executive MBA program. In addition, W. P. Carey Executive Education will utilize the space for their public workshops and company-specific programs, giving participants a great environment to focus on current business challenges and leadership development opportunities.

Although focused on graduate studies, McCord Hall also is home to the W. P. Carey Leaders Academy, a community designed for the school’s top undergraduate students. Director Brennan Forss describes the new quarters as a place for these students to gather, study and consult with their advisors and mentors. The adjacent Avnet Electronic Interaction Center is also available for student presentations and receptions.

All about the students

Graduate school starts with the admissions process, and according to Ruthie Pyles, director of graduate recruitment and admissions, McCord Hall is a major asset. The staff is finding that the open work space supports their collaborative style: “Because we are in this new environment we have a unique opportunity to learn from each other and improve the way we do business.” For prospective students, McCord Hall means a high-quality graduate experience.

“It’s a place where students are going to engage with their fellow classmates and their faculty. It also provides an environment that utilizes the latest technology to maximize their experience. This type of environment is what students have come to expect from a top business school.” When prospective students learn about McCord Hall “they get excited about the opportunity to pursue their studies in a state-of-the-art facility.” Once students arrive, delivering that quality experience is the job of the Graduate Career Center (GCC).

Beginning this year three groups have been united as one team, including student services staff, career coaches and employer relations, and they are all housed in McCord Hall with the population they serve. The convenience of a one-stop shop is extended to the companies who are interested in W. P. Carey talent as well. McCord Hall allows the GCC to offer recruiters the space they need.

A high-level view

The two wings of McCord Hall come together on the northeast corner of the site, forming a sort of canyon, traversed by a walkway that connects the patio with the rest of the ASU campus. Overhead, a bridge joins the wings and over that, an oculus opens up a view of blue sky or stars. At night, LED lights ringing the oculus play a pattern of colors on the stainless steel surface. On the top floor, the Barbara and Ralph Rockow Terrace opens out to the north and east sides of campus.

The beauty of McCord Hall is its brilliant functionality, but it is also its artistry: shape, materials and craftsmanship. Both the building and the programs exemplify excellence. Next time you’re on campus, drop by and experience it first hand.

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