A casual way to learn new skills

The vision for the JBar is to give students a comfortable place to become tech savvy on their schedules 

Fall 2018 Edition 


Heather Lawrenz (j'96), J-School digital media specialist, assists students with questions about infographics.

Heather Lawrenz (j'96), J-School digital media specialist, assists students with questions about infographics.

Lawrenz cut the ribbon for the J-School's new tech hub, the JBar, in September with an assist from Anthony Whaley, lab specialist. (See photo gallery of the installation below.)

Lawrenz cut the ribbon for the J-School's new tech hub, the JBar, in September with an assist from Anthony Whaley, lab specialist. (See photo gallery of the installation below.)

A new hot spot inside Stauffer-Flint Hall is expanding students’ technology skills and building their qualifications for a wide range of jobs after graduation.

The JBar was installed Sept. 14-15 inside the Clarkson Gallery and is designed to be an active learning space where journalism students can access technology training, ask questions and watch demonstrations in a low-pressure, open and informal environment that fits their busy schedules. 

Heather Lawrenz (j’96), the school’s digital media specialist leading the instruction at the JBar, said the Apple Genius Bar and a digital lounge at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism were inspirations for the new tech hub, which operates on the idea that people learn more effectively by watching and being able to follow along at their own pace. 

“I would say it’s not just a piece of furniture,” Lawrenz said.  “The space, the furniture, is a vehicle for something much larger, which is changing some of the ways we approach technology teaching and changing the way I interact with students.”

Lawrence carpenter Craig Daniels worked with Lawrenz to design the bar and hired all local artisans to help him build it.  The “bar” is 8 feet long by 4 feet wide and was designed to match the historic architectural design of Stauffer-Flint — but with a modern twist. 

“He just really got my vision,” Lawrenz said, “to have it look modern, look sleek and cool but also pay homage to the tradition.”

The cornerstone piece of tile at the JBar is stamped with the JBar's signature logo.

The cornerstone piece of tile at the JBar is stamped with the JBar's signature logo.

The cabinetry is alder wood, and the four corners are a sleeker version of the limestone post rock found around Kansas. The tile front of the bar looks like the stone walls of Stauffer-Flint but in square pieces. A granite countertop picks up the colors and tones of the stone and wood. Bar stools surround three sides, and a large display screen is affixed to the wall at the end of the bar. Students can plug in their laptops and charge their phones while they follow along with the latest training exercise.

Sheyenne Denton, a sophomore from St. Marys, Kansas, likes the JBar because it has opened up access to technology training. Students can just stop in and ask a question on the way to class, and the learning format has improved her skills.

“It has helped me learn by allowing me to see other people’s work and use their amazing ideas and add it into my projects,” Denton said. “At the JBar, we all help each other create, so it also gives us the skill of collaboration that you need for a job. I think the JBar will help myself and other students get a job after graduation by giving us skills in Adobe programs that lots of jobs are looking for.” 

In the first three months of the JBar’s existence, there has been a lot of activity, including mini-workshops and Adobe Creative Daily Challenges. 

“If Adobe is doing something live, I’ll be in there every day, and people can kind of come and go, so it’s a good chance to learn the tools but also a quick way to create a pro-ject,” Lawrenz said.

Lawrenz said that the informal atmosphere appeals to the students and is less intimidating than making an appointment or committing to a workshop.

Students can drop by as their schedule permits or even just soak in some tips on the big screen while they are in the Clarkson Gallery studying. 

“I’ll do 20- or 30-minute mini-sessions for people who maybe it's hard to fit in a workshop, or it's hard to fit in a team because they work and they are a student and they’ve got all these other responsibilities,” Lawrenz said. “Well, they can stop by for 20 minutes during lunch and over the course of the semester to really get a full view of things.”

When there aren’t workshops or challenges going on, Lawrenz works on some of her own projects on the big display screen so people can watch how she creates. 

“I think in education and training, there’s a lot of great conversations that happen in a casual way, that happen in a way that there’s not gradebook control, that happen in a way that there’s not an assignment attached to it, but there’s just natural curiosity,” Lawrenz said. “I’m hopeful that the JBar will be the environment to make that happen.”


Donor wants to ensure students keep up with technology

Kyle-Craig.jpg

The JBar was made possible by a gift from the Kyle Craig Family Future of Journalism Fund. Kyle Craig is a third-generation Jayhawk who graduated in 1969 and worked in advertising and marketing agencies. He handled worldwide marketing for Burger King and KFC and founded Einstein Bros. Bagels. He now offers leadership training and executive coaching.

Craig said he established the Future of Journalism Fund because he has seen technology evolve rapidly, and he believes it is vital that graduates keep up with and get ahead of those changes in the journalism field. 

“I think everything that’s going on with the world today — changes in journalism and digital media and social media — journalism as we knew it has clearly changed radically, and it’s going be critical for the William Allen White School to stay ahead of that curve, not even just right at the curve, but you’ve got to be ahead of it,” Craig said. “We’ve got to be doing things to be very future oriented if we are going to attract the best and brightest students around.”

Craig said he wanted to support the JBar because it’s a way for the school to be consistently focusing on staying plugged into a technology platform and trends that will affect the future of journalism.

— Julie Adam

JBar installation