UND opens donor-funded Nistler College of Business and Public Administration

A majority of the $70 million building was funded by private donations, and in total, there are 62 spaces in the building named after donors, ranging from classrooms and study rooms to conference rooms and atriums.

GRAND FORKS – At the Nistler College of Business and Public Administration, the support for UND is visible. Nearly every doorway in the three-story, 111,000-square-foot space is adorned with the name of a person, family or organization that donated to the new building.

A majority of the $70 million building was funded by private donations, and in total, there are 62 spaces in the building named after donors, which range from classrooms and study rooms to conference rooms and atriums.

“This project would not have happened without all of the amazing donors,” said Nistler College of Business and Public Administration Dean Amy Henley.

Filled with windows, open spaces for collaboration and nooks and crannies for studying, the Nistler facility opened in August and replaces Gamble Hall, a 1968 building that previously housed the College of Business and Public Administration.

In total, $50 million toward the project was contributed by private donors. The state of North Dakota contributed $20 million during the 2019 legislative session, matching the lead private donation of $20 million from Werner and Colleen Nistler.

The college and new building are now named after the Nistlers. Werner Nistler is a 1968 graduate of UND and founder of Touchmark, which owns 14 full-service senior living facilities across the United States and Canada. He and Colleen are chairs of Touchmark.

The Grand Forks Growth Fund also approved a $1.3 million grant after the State Board of Higher Education approved a cost-free, 50-year lease to the city of Grand Forks for a workforce development center in the building.

Along with classrooms, the first floor of the building is home to three different collaborative spaces that Henley calls “hubs.” They are focused on faculty engagement, student engagement and community engagement.

The faculty engagement area includes a tax assistance lab and an entrepreneurship space. In the student engagement hub, there are rooms for interviews, a closet where students can get free business clothing and a workforce development space.

The community engagement area is an open space with tables and chairs that can be moved around for students to work on homework and collaborate with peers. It is named in memory of former Provost Tom DiLorenzo, who was murdered shortly after his retirement from UND in 2020. Events in the Nistler building will be held in the space, and a wall separating it and an auditorium open to add more space.

The same type of mobile, cushioned furniture found in the community engagement hub is found across the building in secluded corners, shared spaces and even in department offices. Even the tiered tables and chairs in the main auditorium are mobile, allowing the room to be set up with chairs if it were hosting a speaker or tables for a banquet.

“The design that went into it was flexibility,” said Henley. “So how can it be comfortable for students and also very flexible for us to use for different purposes?”

Furniture was picked with the help of JLG Architects.

The second and third floors have more classrooms, study spaces and faculty and staff offices.

Eventually, all of the Nistler building’s 20 classrooms will be equipped with technology to be able to hold classes in a hybrid model — online and in person — seamlessly, says Henley. With supply chain issues, some of the technology has yet to arrive, but in the future, students will be able to decide to attend classes remotely or in person on a day-to-day basis.

Originally, only four of the classrooms were going to have the technology for hybrid learning, but after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, plans changed.

“We were able to then turn that around and have this be the first building informed by COVID approaches,” said Henley.

So far, said Laura Arneson, director of external relations for the College of Business and Public Administration, students are using the new space for studying, working on group projects and just hanging out before and after classes.

“Students are coming to campus and staying on campus,” said Arneson. “Before, they would just go to class and then they didn’t really have anywhere to be in Gamble before they would go back home.”

In a third-floor study room, Sabrina Hasse, a senior marketing and German student, recently was working on homework.

“It’s really nice to have new technology and new spaces to study, and then all the new classrooms to work in,” she said. “Especially just in marketing, we do a lot of group projects so now we have places like this to meet up and work on projects.”

A grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30, during UND’s Homecoming celebration. The ceremony is open to the public.

“I hope they know that we all took it very seriously, that we were empowered with donor money and with state investments, and we wanted to use those investments wisely in a way that would make those different parties proud,” said Henley.