Student’s journey begins and ends unconventionally at honors program home  

"Olivia Bolton and Thom Allen."
Olivia Bolton (left) and Thom Allen discuss Nunemaker Center during a meeting of the Site Planning and Design class.

A Templin Hall resident her first year, Olivia Bolton, who graduated in May with university honors and a degree in architectural studies, often found herself in Nunemaker Center, crossing the street to attend student programming, social events, and her seminar on Kendrick Lamar. 

The years that followed were defined by internships and a pandemic — factors that kept her from the center’s corner of campus. “I hadn’t been on Daisy Hill in four years,” said Bolton. 

It wasn’t until her final semester that she returned by way of an unexpected path: enrollment in an urban planning course, UBPL 735 Site Planning and Design.  

Offered each spring by the School of Public Affairs & Administration's urban planning program, the course seeks to determine what makes a public space “successful.” Students focus on one campus site and, over the semester, apply principles of balance, scale, and contrast to rethink its overall relationship to the university.  

The goal is “to steer development of a space in the direction of ‘greatness,’” said Thom Allen, the course’s instructor and a faculty member in KU’s urban planning department.   

Though Allen inherited the course, he sought to make it his own. Joining the honors program as the Jeffrey B. Weinberg Honors Faculty Fellow in the fall of 2022, Allen’s new proximity to Nunemaker and eagerness to become more involved in the program coalesced with the teaching opportunity.  

“It was really born out of the pollinator garden project,” Allen said, referring to a spring collaboration with KU’s grounds crew on pollinator-friendly landscaping outside Nunemaker.  

While co-planning the workday — one of several events related to Common Cause 2023’s intersecting themes of climate and health — Allen spent ample time in and around the building, uncovering “more areas of opportunity and potential” that solidified it as the course’s ideal site.    

"Several students sit at round tables"
Bolton (center) listens to a speaker with fellow Site Planning and Design students during a class meeting in Nunemaker's Brosseau Commons.

His students were often on the premises, studying the site and meeting with staff to develop ideas that not only made sense topographically, but that aligned with the program’s values.   

“The University Honors Program is about identity, connection, and opportunity,” said Bolton, an assessment that informed her and her peers’ design proposals, which included an outdoor classroom, study pods, and a stone water terrace.  

Bolton sees current student input as a crucial ingredient toward a successful redesign of student spaces. Gaining their perspective, Bolton said, allows designers to “curate spaces that students would use, not just what designers think they would use.”   

Allen agrees, adding that students “become more connected” to a project when invited to contribute. He hopes the results will be useful in future conversations regarding KU’s 2024 Campus Master Plan to “keep momentum going and figure out where we want to go next.”  

As Bolton discovered, that next destination is sometimes where you started. “It was nice to come back” to Nunemaker, she said, “a nice bookend for my time at KU and in the honors program.” 

For more information at Nunemaker Center and a link to a virtual tour of the building, visit