In The News

Inspiring Places for Meetings and Retreats

Published: 4 years ago | 0 comments

By April Dudash and Bryan Roth

Originally published on Duke Today

The weekly staff meeting can become all too familiar: A structured agenda, the same colleagues, the usual conference room.

To break routine, hold your next meeting or retreat in a new place.

Duke behavioral economist Dan Ariely says meeting in the same environment helps people recall the same ideas and discussions established in that space, but gathering in a different location could spark fresh ideas.

“In our regular meeting place, there’s a chance that we will just continue in the regular social structure. Somebody starts the meeting, somebody responds, people are quiet, other people are not quiet,” Ariely said. “But if we go to a new place, maybe we don’t have the same social norms and we can try something new. There’s a possibility that this something new will get more people to talk, people who haven’t maybe said anything before, and therefore create new ideas.”

Get out of your meeting comfort zone in one of these spaces:



Instead of holding a land conservation project seminar in a classroom, Allison Besch took the conversation to the woods. She and 30 environmental professionals enjoyed catered North Carolina barbecue at a picnic shelter in Duke Forest.

“We wanted to show people our land resources,” said Besch, director of Executive Education Programs for the Nicholas School of the Environment. “They were excited to change their venue and have something outside of a room with four walls. It was a little more inspiring.”

Duke Forest in Durham has two covered picnic shelters off Highway 751 available for rent by the Duke community and the public. Gate C, which costs $35 per day, includes a fireplace and a grill. Gate F, which costs $40 per day, includes electricity and lights, an outhouse, grill, and volleyball court.

“To see the sun glistening through the leaves is just the most amazing picture,” said Beverly Burgess, administrative assistant for Duke Forest. “It’s a relaxing environment. Just getting out and building relationships is something great to do.”

Learn more.



David Frankel, assistant dean of students in the Duke Office of Student Conduct, recently joined colleagues at a staff retreat in The Bullpen, where Duke students and alumni work on entrepreneurial ideas and connect with mentors.

In a glass-enclosed conference room, Frankel and his colleagues spent the day examining the process for Undergraduate Conduct Board hearings and walked to nearby Gonza Tacos y Tequila for lunch.

“This change of environment is good for our brains,” Frankel said. “It’s good for creative problem-solving, and having a new perspective – driving to a different place and seeing the energy of a different office, one where so much creativity is taking place – is positive for any office.”

The Bullpen is Duke’s entrepreneurial hub in downtown Durham and is managed by the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative. It features five conference rooms, two classrooms with audio-visual equipment, and a common area that accommodates up to 240 people – Ping-Pong and pool tables are included.

“We have a lot of departments across Duke that will come here for a meeting or retreat,” said Marie-Angela Della Pia, The Bullpen’s community director. “There’s a good energy here, and it’s a good place to come and refocus.”

Reserve free meeting space.



When Duke Cancer Institute development staff needed space away from their downtown office for an annual retreat, the group wanted something unique. In June, they wound up inside the Nasher Museum of Art.

Annette Henderson and her colleagues rented the Nasher’s University Classroom, a 600-square-foot room with audio-visual capabilities, space for up to 30 people and natural light shining through a wall of floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

“Moving away from our normal environment lets our minds become more focused,” said Henderson, director of advancement services for the Institute. “We can leave distractions behind at the office, which stimulates our creativity because we’re not seeing or hearing the same things.”

Staff rented the room for seven hours and paid an extra cost for a catered lunch served by the Nasher Café. The space is open to all members of the Duke community for $50 total for up to three hours and $100 total for three to eight hours. Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, all rates will be $50 per hour. As a bonus, Nasher galleries are right outside University Classroom, providing breaks that incorporate artwork.

“The building, the space and all the natural lighting is a good combination that you can’t find everywhere,” said Beth Monique Perry, special events manager at the Nasher.

Learn more about the University Classroom by sending an email to


Interior and exteriors of west union at the end of it's renovation on August 22 2016.

After three years of renovations, the West Union is open with new eateries and meeting spaces to be shared among campus community members.

About 10 study and conference-style rooms offer glass-encased spaces with a variety of seating (some rooms up to 20 people) and multimedia stations to connect to computers.

The new “Tower Room” on the second floor above West Union’s main entrance acts as a signature space for small performances and board meetings. Crews also converted a small storage space on the south side of the building into a meeting space for a dozen people. Nicknamed the “Oculus Room,” it features a skylight about 25 feet above the floor.

Larry Moneta, vice president of Student Affairs, said changes to West Union make it an attractive gathering spot with spaces not found in many other buildings across campus.

“The value of all these great spaces blends form and function in ways that will evoke a new appreciation for beauty and utility on campus,” Moneta said. “Each aspect of the new West Union, from the architecture to its open spaces, will inspire students, faculty and staff.”

To reserve West Union meeting spaces, visit the University Center Activities & Events website.

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