Vagelos Education Center FAQs and Policies

Following are frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the Vagelos Education Center (VEC), our state-of-the-art medical education building on the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) campus. The VEC is a lively hub for medical students in the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) and is also home to the Mary and Michael Jaharis Simulation (SIM) Center. Questions are grouped by topic, including:

  • General Information
  • Curriculum and Classroom Spaces
  • Food Options and Other Features
  • Extracurricular and Related Questions
  • Caring for the Space
  • Additional Questions: From Vending Machines to Moving Walls

General Information

For whose use is the VEC?

It is open to all CUMC students, faculty, and professional staff. Those from P&S and Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences have first priority to the VEC for teaching and events. Others in the CUMC community and members of the Washington Heights community may also use the building for special events. The VEC facilities are rented to outside organizations on occasion.

What are the building hours? How do we access the building?

The VEC is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. Students gain entry by swiping their CUMC IDs at the turnstiles inside the Haven Avenue entrance. All occupants, including students, must vacate the building by 11 p.m. Security staff is responsible for ensuring the building is completely vacated at this time. Please be respectful of their duties and follow their instructions.

What is in the building?

For an overview, check out the information sheet at Vagelos Education Center - Architectural Fact Sheet (PDF).

In addition, the building has:

  • Cellar: SIM Center reception and training facilities
  • Floor 1: Security desk, lobby, cafe and Admissions suite
  • Floor 2: Auditorium lower entrance, piano room, terrace
  • Floor 3: Auditorium upper entrance
  • Floor 4: Lecture hall, classrooms
  • Floor 5: Anatomy lab
  • Floor 6: Anatomy changing rooms, SIM Center training facilities
  • Floor 7: Classrooms, SIM Center training facilities
  • Floor 8: Classrooms, SIM Center training facilities
  • Floor 9: Classrooms
  • Floor 10: Cafe, Office of Medical Education (diversity/multicultural affairs and curriculum)
  • Floor 11: Office of Medical Education (reception, vice dean, student affairs, and student research)
  • Floor 12: Classrooms
  • Floor 13: Classrooms
  • Floor 14: Student lounge, classrooms

How will the Office of Medical Education reception process work?

All visitors to the Office of Medical Education must first check in with the receptionist on the 11th floor. The receptionist will then direct them to the appropriate staff member and let that person know of the visitors' arrival.

Who can use the 14th floor student lounge?

The student lounge is dedicated for the use of P&S students and Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences students enrolled in P&S programs. The key card readers are expected to be installed soon. Until then, signs will be posted about student lounge use policies. We ask these students to help to make sure other CUMC students are aware of these policies.

Where can we can relax and socialize?

The major architectural feature of the VEC is the Study Cascade that runs up the entire south facade of the building. It is fitted out with a variety of spaces including areas with couches, chairs, and low tables; open spaces with tables and chairs for informal meetings; benches built into the Study Cascade itself; and counters with chairs. The Study Cascade is not designated as a quiet study space, but we ask students to be mindful of their colleagues, especially around exam times.

Which spaces should we use for quiet study and group study? Who can use them?

We have reserved several smaller classrooms for small group study for P&S students and a mix of smaller and larger classrooms for quiet study for P&S students during the evenings and weekends. Room assignments are set at the beginning of each term and posted outside each reserved room every day. These assignments and postings will be adjusted as needed. Please note that these spaces will be used on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure to take your belongings with you when you vacate a room (even for breaks of 30 minutes or more), so the space is available for other students.

Curriculum and Classroom Spaces

How will we use the VEC throughout the four years of the Columbia curriculum?

Fundamentals courses take place entirely in the VEC. During Major Clinical Year, students return to the VEC for Mechanisms and Practice, shelf exams and Objective Structured Clinical Examinations. In Differentiation and Integration, preparation for the Step 2 Clinical Skills exam and the Ready 4 Residency course are in the VEC. Of course, students are invited to relax, study, and work together in the VEC throughout their time at P&S.

How will the auditorium be used and scheduled?

The main auditorium in the VEC spans the 2nd and 3rd floors on the south facade of the building and seats about 265 people. The 4th floor lecture hall is located right above the auditorium and seats up to 190 people. Lectures are scheduled to ensure that first- and second-year programming in the auditorium does not overlap. Turnaround times when one class exits the auditorium and another enters are tight, so students and faculty must be vigilant about starting and ending lectures on time and vacating the auditorium in an efficient, organized way.

Will we still use Echo360 for lecture recordings in the VEC?

Yes. Echo360 is the CUMC lecture capture platform and was integrated into the state-of-the-art A/V infrastructure in the VEC. Last year, our curriculum team took over Echo360 scheduling and the problems with lecture capture dropped significantly. In the VEC, our team is also in charge of room scheduling, so lecture capture problems that arose due to last-minute room changes should not recur. As with all technological platforms, the Echo360 server may be out for maintenance and upgrades from time to time, but we do our best to keep these from disrupting service for any longer than needed. Please continue to keep us informed of any problems you have in accessing lecture recordings, so we can make sure to address any issues as soon as possible.

Because the VEC has lots of windows and glass, will we have problems with too much sun?

The VEC is wrapped in glass and offers views of Washington Heights, Inwood, the Hudson River, the Palisades, downtown Manhattan and, on clear days, almost all of Long Island (and, yes, Towers 2 and 3!) The Study Cascade along the south facade of the building has automated shades for glare control. The large classrooms along the north facade have manual shades. The smaller classrooms at the core of the building are surrounded on two sides in frosted glass. All study and relaxation spaces are light-filled when the built-in shades are raised.

How will simulation be integrated into our curriculum?

The SIM Center is a major training resource that integrates our standardized patient program, mannequin-based simulations, and procedural skills training. Foundations Seminars and Tutorials incorporate a sequence of Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) to help guide students in developing their clinical skills in preparation for Major Clinical Year. Clerkship OSCEs will continue to transition into the SIM Center. The Step 2 Clinical Skills preparation program is conducted in the SIM Center as does the Ready 4 Residency Course simulations and skills sessions. The SIM Center staff is dedicated to providing enriching, positive learning experiences to all students and is happy to work with faculty and students to develop new curricular offerings that meet students’ needs.

Food Options and Other Features

What types of food options are in the VEC?

There are two cafe areas in the building, a larger one in the 1st floor lobby and a smaller one on the 10th floor. Both cafes are operated by Hilltop. The hours and food options available at each location are:

1st floor cafe: Open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

10th floor cafe: Open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (temporarily closed)

In which spaces are food and drinks allowed?

Food and drink are allowed in the Study Cascade and all classrooms for as long as those spaces are treated with care and respect. If Facilities staff report that they are frequently cleaning spills or throwing away food waste, or that chairs, tables/desks, and carpets have become damaged or stained because of food and drink spills, it may be necessary to change this policy and prohibit food and drink in areas that have been damaged. There is no food or drink allowed in the auditorium, the anatomy lab, or the SIM Center.

Are there places to relax and eat lunch with a view of the neighborhood or the Hudson River?

Students may sit and eat with views of Washington Heights and the Hudson River in the relaxation spaces along the Study Cascade and on the West Lawn. The West Lawn and the Terrace at the top of the steps are used for relaxation and events.

Does the VEC have a kiosk where we can check out laptops? Does it have copiers?

The VEC has a laptop kiosk on the east side of the 4th floor. It has 24 laptops, which can be checked out by anyone with a CUMC ID. There are two copiers located next to the laptop kiosk as well as two additional copiers on the 7th floor cascade.

Does the VEC have dedicated security and other staff?

There are two security guards in the building at all times, one stationed at the main reception desk and one conducting rounds throughout the building. There are also custodial staff and AV support staff assigned to the building.

Are there gender-neutral restrooms in the VEC?

Yes, there are single occupancy, gender-neutral facilities on the 2nd and 10th floors. Gendered, multi-occupancy facilities are located on all other floors of the VEC, with the exception of the 5th floor, which houses the Anatomy Lab and has no restrooms. Students are invited to use restrooms according to their gender identity.

Is there a lactation room in the VEC?

The VEC does not have a lactation room. Currently, the CUMC campus provides the following lactation rooms with 24-hour access, 7 days per week:

Tower 1, 1st Floor *

Allan Rosenfield Building, 1st Floor **

Irving Cancer Research Center, 3rd Floor **

NYP Hospital, 17th Floor **

The School of Nursing Building, 5th Floor ***

Read more on Columbia's Office of Work/Life website.

* Lactation Pod equipped with electrical outlets for personal breast pump use.  Users must bring their own pump.

** Sink is in a nearby bathroom and there is refrigeration in the room.

*** Sink and refrigerator are nearby. 

Extracurriculars and Other Questions

Can student groups reserve rooms in the VEC when classes are not in session? When will we be able to reserve rooms in the VEC for student club events?

All reservation requests should go through the director of student activities/P&S Club at least seven (calendar) days in advance of the event. Reservations for students groups are made on a first-come, first-served basis if space is available. Reservations are not official until they have been approved and confirmed. While there are generally no space rental fees for student events in the VEC, student groups are responsible for any costs associated with catering, AV support during non-business hours, and their other event needs.

What is the situation for the Rachmaninoff piano? When will we have access to it?

The Rachmaninoff piano is stored in a specially-designed Piano Room, which is located on the second floor of the building, right outside the lower entrance to the auditorium. Access to the piano is managed by P&S Club; students who are given permission to use the Piano Room may access the piano whenever the VEC is open.

What are some of the coolest, little known features of the building?

While there are too many cool spaces in the VEC to list, here are two that are perhaps less known:

  • The white partition on the right side of the lobby. If you stand back a bit and look closely, you will see that the holes spell out some very familiar words.
  • The “hidden” staircase that links the hallway outside the 6th floor anatomy lockers to the anatomy lab.

What are your favorite spots so far?

It is very, very hard to choose just one spot, but everyone is starting to develop a favorite:

  • Dr. Drusin loves the Study Cascade, including its panoramic views.
  • Dr. Amiel loves the study steps between the 11th and 12th floor.
  • Dr. Mellman loves the student lounge on the 14th floor.

Caring for the Space

What does it mean to “Care for the VEC”?

The VEC is a state-of-the-art educational facility that is no doubt a hallmark of the P&S experience. To “Care for the VEC” means that students, faculty, staff, and visitors treat the building in a way that demonstrates gratitude to those who worked tirelessly to make it a reality and our commitment to ensuring that those who come after the VEC’s “inaugural class” have the same comfortable and fulfilling experiences as those who were in the building on Day 1.

How do I “Care for the VEC”?

All users of the building can "Care for the VEC" by being conscientious about how they use the space and hold each other to the same high standards. In practice, this means doing some simple things—and reminding others that they should be doing them, too, as follows:

  • Dispose of trash (including food).
  • Help to dispose of trash from group events (including food).
  • Clean up spills and/or reporting them to Facilities in a timely manner.
  • Report damage to the building and its contents to Facilities in a timely manner, such as stained or damaged chairs, carpets, and walls.
  • Reach out for support if AV technology is not functioning properly, rather than attempting to solve issues on your own. (Please see below for details on how to do this.)
  • Respect the rules that govern the use of the VEC, including those related to hours of access, use of quiet and group study space, and room reservations, among others.
  • Bring problems you find (i.e., unclear signage, doors that don't close properly, Wi-Fi dead zones) to the attention of your Deans' Advisory Committee representatives, so they can compile and forward them to the Office of Education for staff to triage to the appropriate Facilities supervisors.

We should all treat the behaviors listed above as part of our own personal responsibility to the VEC and not as “someone else’s job,” to help ensure that everyone who uses the space has the same positive experience.

Who do I contact for custodial services?

Please call 305-HELP (4357) and select Option 3 for help with custodial services.

Who do I contact to get AV support?

Support on weekdays is provided by two offices, depending on when and where it is needed, as follows:

  • Classrooms: Support for all classrooms is provided by CUMC IT Classroom Management. To arrange for AV support from CUMC IT Classroom Management, please use a classroom phone or other phone to call 305-HELP (4357) and select Option 5. Requests submitted from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays are covered by support staff stationed in the VEC who respond on the same business day. Please note that requests for support for CUMC classes listed with the Registrar's office take priority over requests to support other activities. Requests submitted after 3 p.m. on weekdays are covered by staff located elsewhere in CUMC, who respond either the same day or the next business day based on availability.
  • Auditorium and 4th Floor Lecture Hall (Classes Listed with the Registrar): Support for all CUMC classes listed with the Registrar occurring in the auditorium and the 4th floor lecture hall is provided by CUMC IT Classroom Management. To arrange for AV support from CUMC IT Classroom Management, please call 305-HELP (4357) and select Option 5. Requests submitted from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays are covered by support staff stationed in the VEC who respond on the same business day. Requests submitted after 3 p.m. on weekdays are covered by staff located elsewhere in CUMC, who respond either the same day or the next business day based on availability. Support for all other activities is provided by the SIM Center AV Technician, according to the guidelines in the next bullet.
  • SIM Center and Anatomy Lab: Support for all parts of the SIM Center (8th, 7th, and 6th floors and the cellar) and the Anatomy Lab is provided by the SIM Center AV Technician. To arrange for AV support from the SIM Center, please call 305-8515. Requests submitted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays are addressed on the same business day. Requests submitted after 5 p.m. on weekdays are addressed either the same day or the next business day based on availability.

As is the case with other buildings on campus, neither CUMC IT Classroom Management or the SIM Center provide dedicated AV support in the evenings or during weekends. Anyone planning evening and weekend events requiring AV support should discuss their needs with the VEC room scheduler who will recommend our preferred vendors.

Can you please clarify the VEC food and drink policy for the auditorium?

There is no food or drink allowed in the auditorium. This rule was established in the interests of keeping the room free from trash, stains, and odors, and to preserve its appearance for many years to come. Students are allowed to bring water inside, but only if the water is in sealed containers, such as water bottles, travel mugs, or similar containers that can be closed tightly. These sealed containers must be stored in students' bags or backpacks. Students should dispose of all other drinks and food before entering the auditorium. Facilities has placed trash cans outside of the auditorium doors to make it easy to do so.

Additional Questions: From Vending Machines to Moving Wall Panels

Are there vending machines in the VEC?

There are no plans to have vending machines in the VEC.

Are there any other quiet spaces other than classrooms? How do I know if a space is reserved?

A number of classrooms are reserved each evening for quiet study and a number for group study. Students are also welcome to use the Knowledge Center in Hammer building for quiet study. There are currently no plans to designate any portion of the Study Cascade or other parts of the VEC as quiet study space. The touch screens outside of each classroom list the reservations made for each room for the day. (Please note that these screens cannot be used to make reservations. All reservations much be made through the VEC room scheduler.) Students should be respectful of others’ reservations and plan to leave before the next reservation begins.

What if someone who does not have a reservation is using a space that has been reserved by my group? What about when people have not left a room when they're supposed to?

Feel free to remind anyone using a space that you have reserved and they have not that they should relocate. The touch screen outside of each classroom shows all the reservations for each room for the day, so you can use the screen as a resource. Since all classes end 10 minutes before the hour or the half hour, there is a general expectation that this is also when people will leave any reserved room, so that incoming group has time to set up. You should feel free to remind everyone of this expectation. If you encounter these type of issues frequently, email us about them at, so we can track the issues and see if there is a larger problem that needs to be addressed.

Who should we contact if we need help moving wall panels?

You should contact Facilities Management by dialing 5-HELP. The wall requires tools to be used to correctly operate them. Manually moving the wall will damage it. Students should not try to move the panels themselves as they run the risk of being injured or damaging the panels.