Science center could open next January

By
Thursday, February 12, 2009

A science resource center in the Sciences Library could open as early as January 2010, according to Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron.

The center, to be located on the third floor of the SciLi, will serve as a “nexus point” for students in science classes, bringing together advising, tutoring and studying across science disciplines, she said.

The project is fully funded and unaffected by the economic downturn. There are “certain things that need to go forward even in tough economic times,” Bergeron said.

The project has been under discussion since fall 2006, when the Undergraduate Science Education Committee recommended the center’s creation.

A Science Advisory Board comprising faculty from various science disciplines was created in fall 2007 and charged with outlining priorities for the new center, Bergeron said.

The space will be “devoted to bringing faculty and students together,” she said, adding that it will be a place for “pedagogic innovation.”

Bergeron also said the center could support a program similar to the Writing Fellows Program for math and science students. These “math and science fellows” could be on hand in the resource center to tutor students and further help foster “a sense of community.”

Though Bergeron said she hoped money for programming in the resource center will be allocated by the Corporation at its meeting next weekend, she added that some programs, such as the math and science fellows, could be funded by grants.

“One is always looking for grant funding,” she said, adding that she was unsure what the budget for potential programming could be.

An added benefit of the resource center may be a greater ability for the University to procure grants from the National Institutes of Health, which mandate that grants include an educational outreach component, said Associate Dean of the College for Science Education David Targan.

The physical plan for the center is still in the “design phase,” Bergeron said, adding that Bergmeyer Associates, who planned the bookstore renovations, is working on the project.

The center might feature small group study rooms, partitioned spaces and a kiosk at its entrance telling students which classrooms are in use or where certain study groups are being held, Bergeron said.

The center will be designed with heavy input from students and faculty, Targan said. The architects have already attended six focus groups – two with students, two with faculty and two with administrators – he added.

“The focus groups with students revealed that what they were interested in was connecting with other students,” Targan said, adding that the architects can now “go back, literally, to the drawing board” to create final plans for the space.

A model of the resource center might be displayed in the SciLi lobby later this semester to solicit further student input, though the architects already have “a lot of feedback at this point,” he said.

University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi, who attended a focus group last week, said the resource center would be an extension of the Friedman Study Center, though it would be a “slightly more targeted environment.”

Librarians “try to stay more in the background” in the Friedman Center since it is “student-operated,” Hemmasi said, adding that the center could serve as an “equalizing” space between faculty and students, who are not accustomed to meeting outside the classroom or office setting.

Space for the center on the third floor of the SciLi will be freed up by moving books to the Library Collections Annex, located about four miles from campus, which is just over half-full, Hemmasi said.

Construction on the center will begin this summer with renovations to the building’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, currently “designed to house mostly cold books,” Targan said, adding that the work could begin before plans for the center are finalized.

Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry J. William Suggs, who teaches CHEM 0350: “Organic Chemistry,” said the center will encourage students to be active listeners, “not just sit there and consume knowledge.”

Professor of Physics David Cutts, who teaches PHYS 0060: “Foundations of Electromagnetism and Modern Physics,” called the center a “useful model for where learning might be headed.”

Students can also take advantage of the “synergy” between science disciplines by sharing interesting applications of common concepts with students from other courses, he said.