Connecticut Education

SLAM Simulates Real-World Environment at Sacred Heart University

Exterior of buillding

Fairfield, CT – The S/L/A/M Collaborative programmed and designed the new 120,000sf, $65 million Center for Healthcare Education at Sacred Heart University, shared between the College of Health Professions and College of Nursing, that officially celebrated its opening this Fall.

The exterior of the building is designed as three distinct forms that represent the three major programmatic functions of the building. “This helped with the scale of the building’” says Rick Herzer, AIA, design principal at SLAM. “We thought of it as three elegant parallel forms and not just one enormous building with a door.”


A main upper plaza receives arriving users and orients them to the main entrance and central atrium. An adjacent lower plaza features a reflecting pool and a sculpture by David Harber. This more sheltered, contemplative space flanked by an amphitheater of tiered stone seating encourages formal or informal gatherings. The soothing sound of falling water is provided by a spillway that connects upper and lower plazas.

Active-learning classrooms, a team-based learning lecture hall, library with study rooms, simulation suite, and a 44-seat café are housed within the natural Texas limestone portion of the building, on the south. A concealed 50,000sf parking garage is beneath this zone. The brick façade, on the west, fronts human performance space, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and teaching labs. Faculty offices are located within the metal façade of the building, on the north.

The building’s central atrium is filled with natural light and designed as an active piece of architecture, linking all parts of the specialized and informal and collaboration spaces to encourage social and intellectual connection. An array of stairs and bridges ascends the three-story building.

“The first thing you see is that staircase, and it has a wow factor to it — it’s an architecturally significant structure,” says Pat Walker, dean, College of Health Professions.

The openness of the interior and generous areas of glass fronting classrooms and library amplify a culture of cross-disciplinary awareness. “When you come into the building, you see all of the academic disciplines at once,” says Herzer. “We wanted people to get an immediate sense of connection and exposure to the disciplines mixing in the building. Students bumping into each other is a goal of Sacred Heart, and we delivered on this vision.”


Patient waiting room

Sacred Heart University has taken an innovative approach to the building design, as well as to teaching and learning for the 11 health professions and nursing program occupying the Center. SLAM responded with a rational layout simulating real-world environments that mix the inter-professionals together. A combination of new labs with emerging technologies and larger rooms allow collaborative, team-based learning across multiple disciplines.

Students wend their way through a realistic environment where collaboration and immersive learning intersect within spaces that replicate a virtual continuum of health care.

Caitlin Campbell, S.N., a junior in the College of Nursing, is excited about the building’s open design and how it easily facilitates communications between people. “It’s very helpful, especially when you’re waiting for classes or when you get out of an exam and you want to talk it over. There’s always a good spot to go.”

SHU_Anatomage Table_Skills Lab

Among the many collaborative learning spaces is a 120-seat team-based learning (TBL) lecture hall on the first floor that can flex from a conventional lecture hall to a space for teams to work independently. At the ends of each personal table is a sleek computer monitor that, with a push of a button, rises up for students to share their discussions.

“Sacred Heart felt they needed 15 small study rooms, but we said let’s maximize the usage of the TBL space during off class hours,” says Kevin Herrick, AIA, principal-in-charge, SLAM. “We were pleased to share our extensive experience in programming and design of medical education and health professions buildings and how spaces can flex, while still providing faculty and students with an innovative teaching and learning experience.”

A high-fidelity Simulation Suite is located on the third floor and utilized by both the College of Nursing and College of Health Professions. The Suite includes spaces that simulate a physician’s office and waiting room, hospital / in-patient facility, rehabilitation, and a home suite. This simulated environment will enable students in the College of Health Professions to collaborate on in-patient services across the following disciplines: athletic training, exercise science, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistant and speech-language pathology.

Team Based Learning Lecture Hall

“This is an opportunity for students to see patients in a virtual world of primary care, acute care and home care,” says Mary Alice Donius, dean, College of Nursing. “One of the things you can begin to envision is both intra-professional education with graduate and undergraduate students and inter-professional education with the other disciplines in the virtual continuum of care area. There’s an excitement for evolving case studies that involve multi-levels and multi-disciplines.”

Campbell, who will graduate in 2019, is amazed by the capabilities within the Simulation Suite and its resemblance to a real hospital, with a nurse’s station and patient rooms that include life support systems. The clinical skills lab will enable her to develop the skills necessary to assist in delivering a baby. The lab contains a high-fidelity, pre-programmed mannequin who is pregnant and designed to give birth. A new born infant is also equipped to exhibit human-like behaviors

“We were able to watch the pregnant mannequin’s fetal heart rate and uterine contractions on the monitors,” says Campbell. “She breaths and blinks automatically and will make noises if programmed to move through the stages of labor.”

The Home-Care Suite replicates an apartment living environment, designed for students to engage in rehabilitating patients in real-life scenarios, including a driving simulator in the suite that allows students to teach their patients proper operation of a motor vehicle.  The school will offer real patients from the community an opportunity to be assessed by students for their peripheral vision, reaction time, braking ability, etc.

Video Capture and Data Retrieval (VCDR) technology is used to record and assess simulated training exercises by nursing, OT, PT, and speech pathology students, and others. Inter-professional activities are captured, while faculty annotate a person’s performance on the tape. VCDR is also being used to facilitate inter-professional consultations between physician assistant students located at Stamford Hospital with students in the suite.

A Bedside Care Skills Lab has 48-beds.  Different bed stations are equipped with mannequins of varying fidelity, simulating such events as heart attack, stroke and delivering a baby, putting students under the pressure of real-world scenarios. A central lecture space allows students to engage in a lesson or group debrief.

The facility also features motion analysis and human performance laboratories for training in sport performance injury prevention and wellness-oriented services.  A state-of-the-art, cutting-edge Anatomage table serves as a virtual MRI, displaying high-resolution full body scans of multiple, actual cadavers.  Adjacent to the room is a traditional gross anatomy lab with genuine cadavers

“The learning space is so overwhelmingly impressive, and you see the potential in each of the labs and all of our programs,” says Donius.  “You’re coming into a place of healing. It’s an opportunity for students and faculty to be in a place of rest and learning.”