Business (Managing Higher Ed)

A Groundbreaking Collaboration

University and Adobe collaborative space


Universities across the country are challenged to prepare students for careers in the “new economy,” and digital literacy is vital to their success. Faculty seek to engage students in active collaboration, promote research and incorporate technology through their curriculum. Equipping students with skills to effectively communicate across a multitude of digital platforms is an essential 21st-century skill.

The Problem

In 2013, Clemson University ranked 21st in the nation among public universities, driven in large part by their commitment to undergraduate research and an innovative curriculum known as “Creative Inquiry.” Jim Bottum, Clemson’s chief technology officer, had been helping to support this commitment by empowering the university’s departments to embrace the digital revolution and build technology into their curricula. Early successes from these efforts include Clemson’s Social Media Listening Center, Data Visualization Center and many others.

As momentum increased towards developing a more digitally literate campus, Bottum began to hear from faculty and students with suggestions to improve this effort — primarily requests for new software. As he dug deeper into these repeated requests, he was surprised to learn how robust Adobe’s software packages had become. “My initial reaction was, ‘Whoa, I didn’t know they had all this,’ and that led immediately into trying to determine the demand across campus,” says Bottum.

University and Adobe collaborative space


He quickly discovered the university did not have a site license for Adobe’s software, and everyone had to buy the programs on his or her own. There was a disparity in the tools used throughout campus, as some could afford the programs and others could not. According to Bottum, “Students were telling us that they were having to choose between books and software; or, they could do homework on one operating system but not another. We realized we had a broken business model, not just in the ‘business sense’ but also in the functional sense. We weren’t serving our users or the university as well as we could.”

Motivated to fix the broken model and empower students and faculty to maximize the technologies available to them, Bottum reached out to Jon Hammond, Adobe’s North American vice president of Field Operations for Education, and proposed a new model that he believed would be a win/win for everyone.

The Proposal

Intrigued with Jim’s idea of advancing digital literacy supported by the Adobe suite of software, Jon Hammond agreed to explore the idea further. After a few short months of serious conversations, in February 2014, a multidisciplinary team from Clemson University submitted a formal proposal to Adobe Systems, detailing a unique publicprivate partnership that grew from Jim and Jon’s initial conversations.

In less than 12 months from the initial conversation, it was agreed that Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite would be made available to all 27,000 of the university’s students, faculty members and staff, including both traditional and online students. The vision for this comprehensive, universitywide licensing solution made Adobe’s software ubiquitous across the full range of projects, scholarly research, creative design, publishing initiatives and professional development at the university.

University and Adobe Studio space


To ensure effective implementation of this wide-reaching plan, Clemson also proposed a physical space, accessible to everyone, in the R. M. Cooper Library, which is located in the heart of Clemson’s campus. This new collaborative studio would support Creative Cloud users, facilitate training and workshops, and showcase the next generation of creativity.

Overwhelmed by the university-wide collaborative and cooperative spirit displayed by Clemson, Adobe responded positively to the proposal, easily understanding the value of a synergistic partnership and a pipeline of workforce-ready graduates who would know the Adobe software suite and be skilled at using it to create digital content.

“Prior to Clemson’s proposal, the inequity of software availability and access to it by students and faculty was obvious, and the potential availability of Adobe’s workplace-ready tools to everyone would be a game-changer,” says Kay Wall, former dean of Clemson’s Libraries. “We felt that if every student graduated fluent in the Adobe suite, they would be more competitive and relevant to the workplace.”

The plan was quickly finalized and Adobe even agreed to fund the construction of a new on-campus Adobe Digital Studio in the library as part of their commitment to Clemson. “When Adobe gave us that gift for the studio, I think it was the first time Adobe ever wrote a check to a university,” says Bottum. “So many times, people get a deal from a vendor, but where’s the partnership? Where’s the skin in the game on each side? They actually put cash into this studio, and that’s a big deal.”

The Partnership

The Cooper Library is one of the most heavily trafficked buildings on Clemson’s campus and an ideal location for the Adobe Digital Studio. Like most 21st-century academic libraries, it is a neutral, nondepartmental space and a hub for learning activities that engage collaboration and cross-disciplinary discovery. It is also where Bottum and Wall first collaborated a year earlier to create a high-end technology classroom known as the Edgar Brown Digital Resource Laboratory. This space was funded through grants from Dell and the National Science Foundation, and was space that laid the groundwork for the Adobe Studio.

“Libraries are for creating and sharing information, as much as for finding it,” says Wall. “Our vision for the library as a vehicle for collaboration made it a perfect location for the Adobe Studio. It worked because we were not territorial about ‘library space.’ We viewed it as ‘university space,’ and sought what was best for the students.”

Clemson University engaged Good City Architects and the higher education firm McMillan Pazdan Smith to convert 3,200
square feet of library space into a studio for digital collaboration that encourages users to experiment with both the Adobe software and the space. The studio includes an Adobe Help Desk, a video production studio with horizon-less green screen, an audio production studio and collaborative workstations.

Green screen


IT’S EASY BEING GREEN. In today’s world, media of all types surround us and communications have moved far beyond textbooks and written reports. In light of this, Clemson University sought to integrate industry-standard creative desktop and mobile apps across its entire curriculum and provide a new space for inspiration — and collaborated with Adobe to make it happen. The results of that partnership have been a resounding success.

As Clemson and Adobe’s partnership matured, the creativity and excitement of the studio’s design grew. The Adobe Digital Studio combines two shapes — a controlled environment for video production, and the shell of the entire space, designed for change. The resulting “smash up” is a whirlwind-shaped vortex that rises to the ceiling, nicknamed “the Tornado.” Constructed of wood and located in the center of one of the highest-tech spaces on campus, the design provides contrast and a bit of irony to the environment. In a space where people connect and disconnect and coalesce around ideas, then break away to work in solitude, the “Tornado” becomes the iconic organizing element for the studio.

“It’s illustrative of the fact that everything about this studio, everything surrounding the Tornado, is designed to change and evolve and move over time,” says Ron Geyer, managing principal at Good City Architects.

A Winning Formula

The partnership took little time to bear fruit. In fact, the Clemson University Athletic Department (CUAD) took full advantage of the Clemson-Adobe partnership. As the partnership was coming together, the CUAD’s sports communications team was exploring how to better connect with fans, supported by engaging students in more strategic social media efforts. Director of Communications Joe Galbraith and Director of New Media Jonathan Gantt were instrumental in finding ways to enable students to use the Adobe tools to share digital content and promote the university’s powerful brand content.

“Every student on campus has Creative Cloud for free — to have that at your fingertips means you don’t have to go to an art school to get amazing graphics. We used a significant number of students armed with direction and the right products to make these things happen,” says Tim Match, Clemson’s assistant athletic director. “During our football team’s run to the National Championship last year, we added over 21,000 followers on social media accounts and received over 21 million impressions.”

Clemson University was voted the #1 Twitter account in college football by Sports Illustrated and Athlon, and the #2 college account by USA Today. Collectively, their social media accounts received over 320 million impressions in 2015 alone. Many have taken notice, and some unlikely organizations have reached out to learn how Clemson has been so successful in its social media outreach. “When you’ve got Manchester United, the MLB and other Power 5 Conference schools calling Jonathan Gantt and saying ‘We want to do it the Clemson Way,’ that’s a big pat on the back,” says Match. “Technology is such a huge part of what we do now thanks to Jim Bottum and relationships like Adobe.”

A Pattern for Growth

The Clemson-Adobe partnership is the model for many that Adobe is now building with other higher education institutions. The momentum from what started as Jim’s vision for helping students has carried over to more than 40 schools throughout the country.

“Clemson was absolutely a template for this type of thing and a wonderful partner to us as well,” says Hammond. “They really were a catalyst in encouraging these types of relationships.”

Since the initial partnership was formed, Bottum and Hammond have worked together on helping share Clemson’s success story. “This is wonderful for Clemson, it’s been transformational,” says Bottum. “But if it just sits on Clemson’s campus, it’s just going to be wonderful for Clemson.” Together, Bottum and Hammond helped pioneer campus-oriented conferences around collaborative possibilities, bringing Adobe and other technology companies together with college and university presidents and CIOs.

“Really though, the big outcome is seeing the growth in the students,” says Bottum. “I get letters from faculty saying things like ‘this transformed my classroom’ and letters from students saying they got the job they wanted because of this partnership and the skills they learned. It’s anecdotal, but if there’s seven or eight who took the time to write you, how many more actually did get great jobs because of this as well?”

“This is not just about school, but about empowering a generation of students to have a socially conscious voice,” says Hammond. “We’re empowering them to tell their story and to have it told globally, and that’s a great outcome.”

This article originally appeared in the issue of .