24 Hours at Clough Commons

24 Hours at Clough Commons

An hour-by-hour glimpse at the center that never sleeps.

Hospitals, airports, gas stations, Waffle House: some of the places that might come to mind when thinking of 24/7 operations. A student learning center at a university – not so much. But at Georgia Tech’s Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, where Yellow Jackets converge for everything from labs, to lectures, to tutoring assistance, and advising – or simply for a caffeine boost with friends – the influx of students is round-the-clock.

Take a look at the 24 hours captured on March 11, 2014.

8:06 AM - Rising and Shining

The hum of the HVAC is interrupted only by an occasional chime from the elevators facing the zig-zagging staircases that rise in the middle of the atrium. Sun spills into study rooms that line the hallways. Most rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, and you get a sense you are dangling in the air, completely surrounded by the elements. The world is just waking up. So is Clough Commons.

Some look visibly tired, despite the sunlight bouncing through the windows and off the walls. It appears they may have spent the night in the 24-hour facility. Others are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. With coffee in hand, Kimberly Schurmeier is the latter. Schurmeier, who teaches chemistry primarily to freshmen, is getting ready for a day of popping in and out of labs and conducting lectures. Her office is warm and inviting and lined with books that detail all the complicated science that may be on the horizon for any young Yellow Jacket. She says seven or eight students might pack into her office during her regularly scheduled hours. “Sometimes they don’t even have questions, they just want to make sure they don’t miss something someone else might ask,” she explains.

Just down the hall, freshman aerospace engineering major Bradley Jenkins has found a cozy nook of his own. Jenkins, who has been flying remote control planes since he can remember, is an Ohio native who came to Tech with a dream of working for Boeing. Today, it’s physics he’s working on by himself. He doesn’t always fly solo when studying, though. “I study with friends a lot, too,” Jenkins says. “This is the main place where we study.”

9:12 AM - A Desk with a Difference

The marble-topped desk situated in the middle of the Clough Commons atrium isn’t your typical information desk. While it’s the central point for students looking for direction on using resources in the building or assistance with reserving study space, it’s also the place they can turn to if they have pressing questions about class schedules or course loads.

“Students have come to me crying,” Terrance Hines recalls.

Hines is one of two Academic Services managers who help students deal with certain academic or administrative issues they may be facing. “I try to get to the root of the problem, and keep kids calm because they panic at the beginning of the semester.”

Allie Haydon was one of those students. On seeing Hines, she shrieks, “I remember you! You helped me get enough credit hours!” Haydon was at risk of losing her scholarship her freshman year because she couldn’t line up the right number of credit hours. She approached the desk in desperation, and – within just a few minutes – Hines was able to find a schedule solution. “You all were so helpful,” said Haydon. “Everything worked out perfectly.”

Now, Haydon is on her way to a biochemistry degree.

11:15 AM - The Academic Place

Around 11 a.m., Clough is abuzz with plenty of students armed with laptops, notebooks, and recyclable cups for some caffeine-fueled studying. Kaitlyn Brown spends about 12 hours a week here; she estimates that while most of that time is spent studying, a good chunk is spent waiting in line for Starbucks. “It’s well worth it,” she says. “I think I’ve met more people in this building than anywhere on campus.”

Since coming to Tech, Brown’s original interest in medicine has evolved into a desire to enter pharmaceutical development to create medicines that could treat or possibly cure diseases.

Brown, who is originally from Athens, Ga., says it was her visit to Clough Commons that helped her decide to become a Yellow Jacket.

“It’s a building just for studying.” Brown says. “A lot of schools don’t have that. It shows Georgia Tech’s priorities. This is the academic place.”

11:15 AM - The Academic Place

Around 11 a.m., Clough is abuzz with plenty of students armed with laptops, notebooks, and recyclable cups for some caffeine-fueled studying. Kaitlyn Brown spends about 12 hours a week here; she estimates that while most of that time is spent studying, a good chunk is spent waiting in line for Starbucks. “It’s well worth it,” she says. “I think I’ve met more people in this building than anywhere on campus.”

Since coming to Tech, Brown’s original interest in medicine has evolved into a desire to enter pharmaceutical development to create medicines that could treat or possibly cure diseases.

Brown, who is originally from Athens, Ga., says it was her visit to Clough Commons that helped her decide to become a Yellow Jacket.

“It’s a building just for studying.” Brown says. “A lot of schools don’t have that. It shows Georgia Tech’s priorities. This is the academic place.”

12:30 PM - Bees, Not Yellow Jackets

“I like to think that they [bees] need me,” says psychology major Tyler Jones while navigating through a sea of urban honeybees. “It just feels good knowing that I’m a part of something like this.”

This is the Georgia Tech Urban Honeybee Project, which focuses on the impact of urban habitats on honeybees. And what better place to conduct this study than on the Clough Commons roof – in the heart of Midtown Atlanta. The study is part of an interdisciplinary undergraduate research and education program.

Students, like Jones, suit up in full beekeeper gear once a week to inspect the hives and gather honey.

While beekeeping is one of Jones’ passions, other students get involved for research purposes such as using GPS-enabled cameras to investigate where bees find food on campus.

With roughly a few thousand bees in a single hive, a smoker is used to detach them from their honeycombs. “We took one frame and got about 3 pounds of honey,” said Jones.

The honey collected from the hives is sold at the weekly farmers market on Tech Walk during spring and fall.

1:13 PM - LEEDing with Recycling

Cindy Jackson, Tech’s associate director of the Office of Solid Waste Management & Recycling, knows firsthand that managing a recycling program in a 24-hour building is no easy task.

While she has been managing Tech’s recycling program campuswide since former Tech President G. Wayne Clough charged her with the responsibility some 17 years ago, things changed once Clough Commons came around in the fall of 2011.

“When this building opened, it changed the whole way my department works,” she said. “This is a huge building; it’s got the most recycling containers in it.”

In fact, the recycling bins scattered throughout the 220,000-square-foot facility total 27. There are 22 five-slot recycling containers and five single containers exclusively for paper.

In addition to a number of other green features incorporated into this building, the recycling program contributed significantly to Clough Commons receiving LEED Platinum Certification in 2012.

2:00 PM - A Rite of Passage

Lab coats, safety goggles, and closed-toe shoes are all mandatory for every student in this lab. It’s Chemistry 1212 in Clough Commons.

“Most people in this class are either pre-health or are pursuing some sort of biology or chemistry hard science major,” says Priya Gupta, a first-year biomedical engineering student.

Clough is where freshmen get their first taste of college-level lab work. In fact, taking a lab in Clough has been a rite of passage for every Tech student since the building’s 2011 opening. Labs include chemistry, earth and atmospheric sciences, biology, and physics.

“We do a lot of titrations, and we do lot of work with the lab equipment, like the veneer software, which is linked to graphing and calibrating, using pH probes,” says Gupta.

Each lab is geared toward the lesson covered in class. This day’s lesson is focused on kinetics. Gupta and her classmates are using crystal violet and sodium hydroxide to measure wavelength spectroscopy.

Gupta hopes to pursue a career in medicine after graduating from Tech. In the meantime, she spends a lot of time in Clough taking labs, attending lectures, and working with her classmates in breakout rooms – her favorite part of Clough.

“It [Clough] is a good way for students to come together and study,” she says. “The whole idea of collaboration . . . is really encouraged by a big space like this.”

3:30 PM - Communicating at Clough

When he's not busy studying to maintain his 4.0, writing poetry, or taking photographs, Jordan Lockwood, a fourth-year business administration major, is at Clough Commons’ Communication Center helping students polish up essays or brush up on their interviewing skills.

A mix of professional tutors and peer tutors, like Lockwood, run the Communication Center. Commonly called the CommLab, this is the central place on campus where students can get help with written, oral, verbal, electronic, and nonverbal communication or multimodal projects.

“The projects students bring in are incredibly fascinating. I really, really enjoy learning about the different research and projects and things that are going on with my fellow students, particularly in fields I’m not a part of,” says Lockwood. “I had always imagined that I would be an English major, but tides changed, and I decided that I liked finance a little bit more. But I still wanted to keep in touch with that side of myself; the CommLab has really given me the opportunity to do that.”

4:10 PM - Rush Hour

Out in the middle of the Clough atrium, it is clear that the afternoon has brought a flurry of activity. The hum of the air conditioning heard at 8 a.m. has been replaced by the murmur of friendly conversations and the tapping of footsteps on the cement floors. What is virtually an oversized hardwood staircase down the front side of the building becomes the perfect spot for basking in the sun – from indoors. It’s also a great vantage point for people-watching, especially from the top perch, which provides views down the staircase to the first floor and the droves of students in the atrium.

Sitting on the very top step of the staircase, Anoosha Kumar, an international affairs and modern languages major, says, “It’s why I don’t work here. I can’t get anything done.” She says she can’t come into Clough during the afternoon without seeing someone she knows.

“It’s great for group projects, but if you’re trying to study alone…” her friend Gaurika Bhat, tries to explain.

“Third floor of the Library,” interrupts Kumar.

“Yeah, you have to go into certain places; you can’t be sitting here,” adds Bhat, an undergraduate student in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering.

Returning at 11:30 p.m. or midnight is a tactic both young ladies agree is more productive.

“That’s when the traffic starts to die down,” Kumar says.

That’s also the time the building is open exclusively to Georgia Tech students.

But for now, it’s 4 p.m. and busy.

5:18 PM - Collaborating in Quiet

On the back side of the main floor of Clough is the Center for Academic Success, a tutoring resource. It’s a warm and welcoming room, but you can tell there is intense instruction happening. Pencils are scribbling on notebooks, markers are squeaking on whiteboards. Yet, something is missing: a professor. That’s because most of the instruction is between students.

“Sometimes it’s just that different viewpoint and sitting down with just one person and going over the material that they [students] need,” explains student tutor Bronwyn Carlson. “But, sometimes it can be difficult for a student to reach out for help.”

So, Tech created the PLUS [Peer-Led Undergraduate Study] Program in which students who have excelled in a particular class are brought into the Center for Academic Success to help those having difficulty picking up the material.

Here, some students get one-on-one assistance, while others work in a more interactive way with fellow classmates. Others just find it to be a sanctuary.

“Even though we’re all talking with our tutor, it’s way quieter here. It gets a little rowdy out there,” says undergraduate student Jessica Zuppan. She will stay on after her session to continue with quiet study.

6:22 PM - Consilience

In the Clough Lounge, Pete Ludovice and Charlie Bennett are setting up to record their live podcast, Consilience. The term comes from biologist and author E.O. Wilson’s idea that science and the humanities are working toward a unified knowledge. In other words, it promotes the concept that evidence from unrelated sources can converge to lead to strong conclusions.

Ludovice is an engineering professor and director of the Center for Academic Enrichment. He’s also a stand-up comedian. Bennett works in the Library adjacent to Clough Commons, and holds two liberal arts degrees from Tech.

The two have converged to share their own conclusions on bringing together the sciences and humanities.

“We just started having a conversation about the things that bothered us or the things that excited us, and we recorded it once a week,” Bennett explains.

It’s obvious the quick-witted two not only have a lot to say but also know how to pepper every sentence with sarcasm and mix in intelligent humor.

“The authorities have not intervened at this point, so we will continue to do this.” Ludovice quips. “I think Putin will come in with his shirt off, and we’ll be in big trouble.”

In the meantime, their podcast has a global following. Both were proud to tell just how far away some listeners are located.

“China,” Bennett says.

“Germany,” Ludovice immediately follows.

“China’s actually farther away than Germany,” Bennett snaps.

“Yeah, but we’ve got a higher concentration of listeners in Germany,” Ludovice retorts.

Bennett’s comeback sums it up: “We’ve been listened to at least once on every continent except for Antarctica.”

7:22 PM - Up on the Roof

The sun is beginning to set, and it’s the perfect time to soak up the view from the rooftop. Though the temperature is dropping, activity in Clough Commons is not. A group of four students – one of whom is outfitted with a DSLR camera and another with a white lab coat – has settled on the rooftop to work on a video project.

“It’s for Intro to Bio,” the cameraman – and industrial engineering major – Walter Seals explains.

The group had been working in one of Clough’s fifth floor study spaces and decided to take their project outdoors for a change.

“We use the group meeting space [in Clough] all the time,” says Paul Bunch, a computer engineering major.


“It’s very modern,” says Ansley Thomas from behind a pair of particularly cool orange shades. “Everything is set up for students to work efficiently.”

8:11 PM - The Poltergeist at Clough

The Clough Commons rooftop is a picturesque escape. The backdrop of skyscrapers serves as a bold reminder that Georgia Tech is smack-dab in the middle of Atlanta.

Ph.D. architecture student Marisabel Marratt is sporting a perfect combination of Georgia Tech colors: a gold blouse and white sunglasses.

“I welcome any occasion I have to get outside and do some reading; I like coming up here because it’s quiet,” Marratt says. “And it’s a really beautifully planned space. It’s quite energizing.”

Because of her architecture background and related penchant for precise planning, Marratt has a natural appreciation for Clough’s meticulously put-together design – outside and in. But, she does joke about a hiccup in the building’s smart technology.

“I always talk about the poltergeist at Clough,” she says laughing.

With lighting in the building being on motion sensors to conserve energy, students might end up in the dark if they have let a few minutes go by without making detectable movement. Marratt has found herself having to wave her arms to bring back the overhead lighting.

“It’s a building that’s intelligent, and you become aware of that when you’re sitting in [Clough] – more so than in another spot on campus.”

9:00 PM - All Things SGA

Several large lecture halls dominate the first floor of Clough Commons. These spaces are designed to serve a variety of purposes. They’ve hosted the President’s Institute Address, for instance, and they accommodate daily classes. This night, the SGA [Student Government Association] has marked its territory with gold and white balloons, signaling a major SGA event.

The SGA has chosen Clough to hold an open session of the Undergraduate House of Representatives – Tech’s version of Congress.

“We use Clough when we really want to engage with students, because there’s just always a flow of students going in and out of classes, stopping to study and get some Starbucks,” says Lindsey Walton, SGA public relations chair. “We also love Clough’s auditoriums; they’re very nice and spacious.”

10:06 PM - Multipurpose Magic

Hear undergraduate student Rob Agocs play Tom Petty's Waiting.


In the multimedia studio, connected to Clough via the Library, the creative ambiance is complemented by warmly lit lamps. There is a ton of equipment – all in use: Colorful graphic designs are in progress, and video editing is underway; there’s also a huge plotter in the back of the room surrounded by students watching a glossy poster print. This high-tech facility is completely student-run. If you don’t know how to operate or use the equipment, it’s a student who will help.

Tucked inside this room is another alcove waiting for an inspired student to come in and make magic. It’s the Beck Multipurpose Room. It’s meant for recording professional-quality audio.

Undergraduate student Rob Agocs walks in with a guitar case. What he pulls out is not your standard guitar.

“It’s a Gibson Dobro,” Agocs proudly says. “I managed to get it for a really good price: free.”

Shinier than your average guitar, it’s a resonator guitar with a metal body and an intricate Hawaiian design emblazoned on the back. It basically amplifies itself.

He usually uses it to belt out old country songs, but, today, he’s recording rock: Tom Petty’s Waiting.

“I think I’m going to get a job as a mechanical engineer, then translate that into a music career,” he says. “You need money to start a music career.”

11:00 PM - Startup Sandwiches

Hear the 11 p.m. message over the loud speakers at Clough Commons.


At 11 p.m., the Clough intercom system delivers the message that only Georgia Tech students are allowed in the building from this point. This is not followed by decreased activity, though; Tech students keep going and going.

One of the busiest areas is the hallway and seating area right outside the vending machines on the third floor. And in that spot tonight – something out of the ordinary: sub sandwiches in a clear box.

One of the group of three students watching over the fare explains: “We are part of a lab class where you have to create your own startup by the end of the semester. We chose to focus on collegiate eating.”

Tonight, the group is testing their idea in the real world. They hope to find that students would be willing to buy freshly made sandwiches stocked in a vending machine daily – as opposed to processed foods. The trio devised a prototype of a vending machine for full effect, and their setup location was strategic – with the goal of wooing students into choosing to get "sandwiches instead of snacks.”

They seem to be on to something – within the hour, the sandwiches are all gone.

12:00 AM - Burning the Midnight Oil

Though it’s midnight, Nagela Nukuna has not stopped. After waking up at 9 a.m., the Student Government Association (SGA) freshman representative spent the entire morning helping with SGA activities. From that point, each hour was spoken for with everything from labs and classes, to meetings – up until 10:30 p.m. when she got around to calculus homework.

Finally, at midnight, she settles down to some serious studies.

“We have a calc test day after tomorrow, and we’re kind of freaking out about it,” Nukuna says, speaking for herself and her study mate, Samah Hisamuddin.

Nukuna and Hisamuddin say they got together at Clough because it’s the go-to spot for late-night studying.

Why not just hunker down in a dorm room?

“Because I’d go to sleep!” laughs Nukuna.

For Hisamuddin, it’s a matter of focus. She says she’s much better able to do so in the Clough environment.

“I spend so much time here. Seeing people around me studying helps me a lot,” she says.

Turns out Hisamuddin and Nukuna may themselves have, on occasion, provided motivation to other students, too, having pulled all-nighters at Clough.

“I’ve taken a shower here; I have a locker with extra clothes. I’ve stayed here for the night,” says Nukuna.

Both freshmen agree that earning good grades outweighs any cons that might accompany such long nights. In fact, they say they feel very fortunate to be at a university that facilitates unconventional study hours and activities so they can go above and beyond with their studies.

“I can’t imagine not having access to this,” says Hisamuddin. “Clough is how I define Tech; it’s the keystone of Tech.”

At around 4 a.m. Nagela Nukuna is still at Clough -- but fast asleep at her study table.

1:47 AM - Riding Along in the Stingerette

Stingerette driver Margaret Pate pulls up on the Clough Commons cobblestone driveway, and, almost immediately, her 12-passenger van is filled to capacity with Tech students – in spite of the fact that it is past 1 a.m.

She returns about 15 minutes later after dropping that group of passengers to various Tech locations, and, again, drives off into the cold, rainy night with an almost-packed van. The weather may have something to do with how busy she is this particular night, but, in general, the Stingerette is never starved for passengers.

Tech students and staff needing transportation anywhere within campus boundaries can depend on the Stingerette for a ride between the hours of 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. With Clough Commons remaining open around-the-clock, the Stingerette is a safe, free, reliable, regular option for those making use of this 24-hour facility.

Having been a Stingerette driver for some six years, Pate says she’s had the opportunity to develop relationships with some of those who routinely use the service.

She recalls a special instance in which she served as more than just a driver to a student. In the time she took to pick up and drop off this homesick Indian student, she became a shoulder to cry on.

“I just talked to her a little bit about remembering places and people at home, and when I got ready to let her out, I asked her if she’d like a hug. When she said ‘yes,’ I gave her a hug,” Pate said.

This will go down as one of her most unforgettable on-the-job experiences.

2:26 AM - Food and Focus with Friends

The pizza boxes, coffee cups, and jumbo-sized water bottles interspersed between laptops and notebooks on the second-level Clough Commons study tables say it all: These students are in for the long haul!

It’s approaching 2:30 a.m., and engineering majors Michael Senoo and Maggie Lindsay are studying for an 8 a.m. calculus exam. The plan is to go to sleep around 4:30 a.m.

“I feel most productive between midnight and 3 a.m.,” says Lindsay.

Senoo agrees. For him, going to Clough Commons for an overnight study session allows him the level of focus he needs to feel fully prepared for an exam.

“When I can focus all my time on one subject, I get my best work done,” says Senoo. He says in his calculus class, for instance, properly preparing for the exam requires reviewing a series of chapter quizzes; if he reviews them all at once, he feels better prepared than if he were to “chop it up into bits and pieces.” He says it really just comes down to being confident about going into the exam.

“I feel like if I had six hours of sleep and kind of knew the information, I’d do a lot worse than with two hours of sleep and knowing all of the information,” Senoo says. “In a 50-minute exam, I know I’m going to get through that period and then I get to sleep after; it’s just so much easier to think that way. It’s really not a big deal.”

For Lindsay, studying into the wee hours of the morning has been a way of life for her since eighth grade; Senoo says it’s a habit he’s only recently adopted, “But, it’s been working out well, so I don’t see a reason to change.”


3:10 AM - It’s Always Interesting at Tech

Midnight rolls around, and Steven Ball begins his shift by counting heads, inspecting rooms, completing logs. Routine? Yes. Mundane? No.

Ball, who’s been a Clough Commons security officer for some three years, says, because his job surrounds him with Tech students, it’s always interesting.

“Working with these students, you get something new every night,” says Ball. For instance, on a routine patrol of the building, he might come across students in the middle of building a robot – and, right then and there, he gets a mini lesson in robotics.

“They break everything down. They’re really into it,” he says.

Ball believes that this passion Tech students are known for having for their work is accompanied by a deepened sense of purpose when they come around Clough Commons after midnight.

“They’re on a mission at nighttime. It’s overnight, so people are here to take care of business,” Ball says. “These students are driven. They’re aspiring to get things accomplished, they have ideas, and they’re energetic, so it gives you a jolt.”


Producer: Rob Felt

Writers: Brigitte Espinet, Steven Norris, Tearanny Street

Photos: Rhys Black, Rob Felt, Melanie Goux

Videos: Rob Felt, Maxwell Guberman, Fitrah Hamid

Graphics: Rhys Black, Melanie Goux

Web Developer: Eric Huffman