New UPLift Challenge will influence campus culture with enhanced infrastructure

Credit: Anna Boyle/ Credit: Anna Boyle/

Provost Farnam Jahanian recently announced the Task Force on the CMU Experience’s newest mission: the UPLift challenege. This challenge, which promotes the importance of university placemaking at Carnegie Mellon, allows students, faculty, and staff members to submit ideas to temporarily enhance campus infrastructure to create a more supportive and engaging environment.

According to the Project for Public Spaces, placemaking is a collaborative process by community members which “inspires people to collectively re-imagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community,” while also strengthening the connection between people and the places they share. “Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.”

Carnegie Mellon University will fund up to $20,000 for each placemaking project, which will be selected and executed by a faculty-staff-student committee. Since this is a pilot challenge, submitted projects are meant to experiment with different ways community members can temporarily enhance Carnegie Mellon’s campus infrastructure and influence our campus culture for up to one year.

“Pilots are all about learning,” Daragh Byrne, a member of the Campus Infrastructure working group of the Task Force on the CMU Experience who has been helping to lead the UPLift Challenge initiative, said. “We are actively looking for unproven, untested ideas that we can try for a while. Through these temporary interventions, we can gain invaluable insight into what can make our experience and our campus better, in both the short and long-term.”

According to the challenge's website, proposals can seek to create brand new indoor greenspaces, can plan to renovate gathering spaces or shared “nooks,” or can be as simple as creating more comfortable benches. “We are looking for any kind of renovation or re-imagining of campus places that can be executed for up to $20,000,” Byrne said.

“In addition to UPLift, our group is really excited about the renovation of several ‘nooks’ on campus,” Marsha Lovett, co-chair of the Campus Infrastructure working group of the Task Force on the CMU Experience, said. The “Nooks” Project is an effort to renovate shared, small public spaces where students gather together to learn and collaborate. Its goal is to keep the community connected and engaged while we learn, grow, and discover together. “Just by adding seating, lighting, white boards and outlets, we can transform an empty corner into a learning environment for students,” Lovett said. This summer, the first two “nooks” to be upgraded will be in the fifth floor of Wean Hall and the College of Fine Arts basement.

In addition to the “Nooks” Project, The UPLift challenge is yet another way the Task Force has embraced the idea that “small, creative placemaking projects can make a big difference,” Jahanian said in his email.

When asked about how he hopes the UPLift challenge will benefit the Carnegie Mellon community, Byrne stated that he hopes it will remind us that “our campus environment is not just a backdrop, but a shared playground, work space and home that can meaningfully influence our community and culture” while also fitting into the Task Force’s ultimate goal of reinforcing health and wellness, school pride, and the open exchange of ideas as core community values.

Kristen Kurland, co-chair of the Campus Infrastructure working group of the Task Force on the CMU Experience adds that “more than anything else, this is an exciting conversation starter. Even if an idea isn’t executed, hearing directly from our community about what they feel is missing from campus will help to reveal possible problems and suggest solutions.”

Carnegie Mellon University will continue to move forward with other infrastructure projects such as building the Tepper Quadrangle and creating a new health and wellness center. They are also currently working on projects to renovate classrooms, reform academic policies, and expand mental health care.

Applications for ideas may be submitted by April 28 at