Olivet College
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John Homer, Ph.D.

A building can be more than just a structure that stands permanently in once place – the case for Mott Academic Center, the 50-year-old heart of Olivet College learning and development. Nearly every student’s educational journey includes Mott at the core, but more importantly, the relationships and memories that were created within. The building is named for Charles Stewart Mott, an engineer and entrepreneur, but also a philanthropist and public servant. Like the founders of Olivet College, Charles Mott was forward thinking and dedicated to helping others be more and do good.

In the spring issue of Shipherd’s Record, a special collection of stories shared more about Mott Academic Center’s past and future in “If These Walls Could Talk.” Mott has not stood still. It is alive, and it’s moving toward the next 50 years. This piece was written by contributing writer Jackie Bounds. John Homer, Ph.D., professor of economics, shares a look into the nearly four decades he has influenced and inspired generations of Olivet College students while teaching on every floor of Mott Academic Center. Read the full magazine online now.

“Teaching in Mott for so long is like being in a time machine,” said Homer. “I have watched walls, carpet and people come and go, but the Mott building stands steady through the changes. It is adaptable as an academic building. I have seen labs torn down and new technology come in to make different classrooms or offices. One thing is for sure, the 50-year-old Mott building has served us well.”

The academic center has always adapted to the needs and changes of the college, and to the needs and changes of society, too. When Homer started teaching at Olivet in 1979, Mott was primarily used as a science building. “As science waned in the 1980s, other academic interests took over, the labs were dismantled and new classroom walls were added,” said Homer. “Science used to be a really big deal decades ago and now it’s coming back so there is a need for more science classrooms again.” He also remembers when Mott housed three dark rooms where students and staff could take film and have it processed.

John Homer, Ph.D., works with two students in 2005.

“I’ve witnessed the institution evolve with the ebb and flow of new majors,” said Homer. As some departments and programs have gone by the wayside, Homer is quick to point out how Olivet’s newer departments, including insurance, criminal justice and health and human performance, are already hugely successful and enrollment continues to increase.

“Olivet stepped forward to offer these programs to meet the needs of the students and society,” said Homer. “As Olivet continues to grow and our institution adapts to these changes, we may have to start moving some departments out of Mott and make other accommodations.

“If these walls could talk, they would tell stories of changing times. People come and go, academic majors come and go, but this building serves a great purpose, as it is the main academic learning center.”

Homer has also seen the campus convert from blackboards with chalk, to whiteboards in every room, to the use of technology. “After using whiteboards, now I think we could need them in the front and back of all classrooms. I always run out of space to write,” Homer joked. He also likes the change from traditional desk and chair combinations to tables and chairs for the simple reason that it allows students more space to spread out their class materials. “Students have more access to their text book and notes without things falling on the floor. I realize tables take up more square footage in a room, but I think it has made a difference in their learning experience.”

The 130 graduates of 1979 march from Mott Academic Center.

“It’s my understanding that the new campaign will fund several projects at Mott, which is in need of some tender loving care,” Homer added. Renovations to improve lab and classroom spaces, which have been ongoing for the past few years, will continue in order to enhance flexibility and technology. Outside enhancements will make the front entrance accessible to persons with mobility issues, including remodeled doorways and new walkways.

In addition, the creation of additional social spaces will allow today’s students to interact on a broader level. Coming soon is the transformation of the underutilized Barker Cawood Lounge into a Starbucks coffee shop. When completed, this contemporary café will allow students to meet other students and engage naturally in a much more desirable environment.

Change is inevitable, especially on a college campus. Homer sees the need for updates to the academic center and has witnessed building improvements time and time again. Teaching in the same building for 39 years could make Homer the resident expert of Mott.

“Looking back, I wonder where did the time go,” said Homer. “When you enjoy what you do like I do, you don’t notice the passage of time, only the changes around you.”

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