“Give us our dream space:” World Language Lab up for renovation

Morgan State’s own interior design students spent six weeks creating potential designs for the university’s language lab.


Jordynn Blackwell

Four Morgan State interior design students spent six weeks creating potential designs for the university’s language lab.

Jordynn Blackwell, Staff Writer

Language: the principal method of human connection and community. Speech is the primary tool for expression and communication. No matter where you are in the world, learning a language is a revolutionary way to break barriers and bring unlikely strangers together.

That is one of the goals of Morgan State University’s World Language department. The foreign language lab, located on the ground floor of Holmes Hall, is the number one place on campus for students to practice their target language.

“The main purpose of traditionally, the main purpose [of the language lab] has been to help students improve their oral comprehension of the language,” Helen Harrison, world languages and international studies interim chair, said. “Its goal is to help students evolve while practicing a language in a variety of ways.”

Or at least that is what its purpose was supposed to be. Harrison recalls when her journey at Morgan began in 1996 and she was given a tour of the lab, which at the time was up-to-par. Now, it’s hard to describe the space as top quality at a modernizing university.

“I remember in my interview, the current dean showed me the lab and he said that it was the most state of the art language lab in the state of Maryland,” Harrison said. “That was in 1996 and since then, the basic look hasn’t changed. Of course, there have been updates in terms of the technology and software that is present, but everything has remained the same.”

Much of Morgan’s campus architecture is dated, with its stone and brick exterior and splash-of-milk cinder block walls. The makeover, as many both the language professors and interior design students expressed, has been long overdue.

Geoffrey Moore, an interior design student, said, “Originally, the language lab’s interior primarily focused on function and use of school provided computers. The space was overcrowded, did not direct attention and did not encourage collaboration between students. The language lab is located in the basement of Holmes Hall and you could tell. Many of the interior finishes resembled what you would find in a residential basement with its concrete block walls painted white, aged suspended ceiling and linoleum flooring.”

The project is in collaboration with the university’s talented interior design students, led by Kim Morrison Race, interior design professor. The four teams of students were given six weeks to bring their designs to fruition. The design process included taking measurements of the lab, schematic designing and developing a 3D model of the newly renovated space.

Design development is both the easiest and hardest part,” Rachael Mosley, an interior design student, said. “Coming up with the general layout with schematic design is not too hard, but the design development is making that into an actual thing. Design development is fun because of all the furniture, paint, flooring and ceiling options at your disposal, but  it’s difficult for the same reason if there’s not a theme to go off of.”

Race was overjoyed for her students, as this was an opportunity for them to get a taste of the work being done in the interior design industry. However, an obstacle in the way of this goal being accomplished is the lack of funding behind it.

“I am more than excited,” Race said. “[My students] have come with some really great ideas. One of the challenges that the department sees in the future is where the money will come from to complete this, so that may take a while. To give them all the key information now is important.”

The collaboration came from the mind of Betty Torrell, the interior design program director. She then contacted Nicolino Applauso, foreign language lab laboratory director, who was over-the-moon about the proposal. 

Applauso described being introduced to the renovation idea, saying “I just recently started working here as the lab director. The lab had been closed for the majority of the pandemic. [Torrell] and I were talking about the proposal and what we reimagined the language lab to be. That’s when she connected me with Professor Race. I’m very happy because it’s great to have someone help with her expertise to design the space and meet our vision.”

After the students presented their ideas, faculty members gave their feedback. Although the majority of their responses were positive, the faculty in the language department gave the interior design students inspiration and hopes for what they want the space to evolve into. 

Harrison gave the assigned students the directive “Give us our dream space,” a place of collaboration, comfort, and innovation. 

“This [project] is historical for many reasons,” Applauso said. “The building that we’re in is the symbol of Morgan State. The students are a big part of the blueprint of the renovation. Their ideas are a part of the discussion. I don’t believe that happens very often where students can be a part of a project like this, in such a historic building. I believe it’s a great opportunity for everybody.”