Sep 30 2016

UM’s Liberal Arts Building updated for 21st-century learning

The University of Montana’s College of Humanities and Sciences celebrated the grand opening of six newly remodeled classrooms in the Liberal Arts Building on Sept. 30 and announced the next stage of renovations to the facility.

In the past two years, private investors Dennis and Gretchen Eck have generously contributed nearly $4 million toward the renovations to UM’s Liberal Arts Building. Their most recent $2.6 million pledge will help initiate future phases of the remodel.

Thanks to the Ecks’ ongoing support, the college has created a technology corridor by outfitting six classrooms with enhanced technology to promote flexible learning environments. 

These “smart” classrooms reopened to students and faculty this semester, providing access to advanced audio/visual resources such as a dual-purpose whiteboard “skyfold” wall, Polycom units, an 80-inch monitor and wireless input systems to help facilitate lectures.

Professor and students utilizing the new space.

“I was walking across campus one day, stepped into the building and went back in time 50 years,” said Dennis Eck, former interim CEO and current director at Ulta Salon, Cosmetics, and Fragrance, Inc. “Nothing had been modernized. And I decided to do something about it - something that could serve as a proof of concept for upgrading the University's facilities without changing its characteristic beauty.”

Dennis and Gretchen’s previous gifts have also ensured further renovations, which will launch in December. The next stage, unveiled at Friday’s event, includes enhancing technology in the building’s 120-seat auditorium, creating a new central entrance, remodeling office spaces and designing much-needed student gathering spaces. Additionally, their support has provided for the development of an official master plan to guide the college’s facility upgrades.

Artistic rendering.“We are grateful for generous visionaries like Dennis and Gretchen Eck, who recognize the value of an education that builds a broad foundation across disciplines,” said UM President Royce Engstrom. “The improvements being made to the Liberal Arts Building will be integral to equipping our students with the tools to succeed in the global 21st century.”

The College of Humanities and Sciences fulfills approximately 80 percent of all general education requirements for the University, making the Liberal Arts Building one of the University’s most highly trafficked spaces. The Ecks and the college have envisioned a facility that brings digital technology to faculty and students’ fingertips and allows them to access scholars and educational resources around the world.

“Using the technology of LA 304 allows me to present three to four different pieces of information simultaneously,” said Barbara Weinlich, a visiting associate professor of classics. “Essentially, it provides me a platform for making various thinking dispositions visible. This new learning environment not only meets the expectation of the digital generation but also facilitates the deepening of each student’s understanding of the course content.”

Throughout his career, Dennis has been at the forefront of technological innovation in retail, leading companies like The Vons Companies, Coles Myer, and Ulta Salon, Cosmetics, and Fragrance. His extensive experience as a pioneer in business has led him to believe that technology is an equalizer.

“Because technology is a cost-effective way of transmitting information, data and learning, it removes barriers without decreasing value,” Dennis said. “In a university setting, that value is passing knowledge from a professor to a student. If the technology in the Liberal Arts Building allows that to happen more efficiently, then we’ve accomplished a big part of making education affordable and available in the long term.”

The next phase of facility renovations depends on important infrastructure updates to the heating, ventilation, air conditioning systems, plumbing and electrical systems, as well as roof repairs and asbestos abatement. As a priority for the University in the next legislative session, this project promises to demonstrate the momentum of private support when coupled with state resources.

The College of Humanities and Sciences – known as the “heart and soul” of the University – encourages and supports teaching and research that cross traditional disciplines in collaborative ways, both within the college and across UM. For more information on supporting the Liberal Arts Building project or the college, call Marci Bozeman at 406-243-2646 or email

Pictured above (top to bottom): (1) Visiting Associate Professor Barbara Weinlich uses new technology in the Liberal Arts Building to teach an Intermediate Latin class. (2) Preliminary rendering of the new entrance to the Liberal Arts Building (Courtesy of Comma-Q Architecture).