Recruit & Retain (Eastern Kentucky University)
Do Buildings Matter?
- By John Wade
- December 1st, 2014
Do structures and space matter in
the academic setting? Or perhaps the
question should be: Do thousands
of hours of interaction between faculty and
architects matter in academic outcomes?
A case study at Eastern Kentucky University
in Richmond, KY, says that they matter greatly!
Starting back in 2005, the planning for New Science
Building (NSB) began in earnest. A senior faculty member, Dr.
Malcolm Frisbie, professor of Biology, was appointed faculty shepherd
for the project. Dr. Frisbie organized numerous design meetings with
the building’s principal designer, Omni Architects of Lexington. Thousands
of emails were exchanged, each with the focus on improving
student learning in the sciences.
Different perspectives were brought to the table. Physics faculty
wanted their space to reflect a completely new learning paradigm,
that of collaborative learning. No more long black lab benches for
them! In their new space in NSB Phase I, opened in January 2012,
their lower-level physics classrooms feature large, round tables
seating eight students. Moving away from the traditional lecture/lab format, students are introduced to collaborative learning in
teams of eight guided by two team-teaching faculty. Questions are
posed; answers are researched and written up. Physics comes alive
in learning by discovery. Majors in the department have grown to
about 80 students, up 30 percent in the two years since the Physics
Department moved into their new space.
Phase I also houses the Department of Chemistry spread across
two floors of offices, research labs, teaching labs, classrooms and
a very important peer mentoring center staffed with advanced
chemistry students. Labs and classrooms have something missing
from the old building: windows! Natural light is available, but can
be regulated as pedagogy dictates. The forensic science program
housed in the Chemistry Department even has a mock courtroom
for aspiring CSI types to work on their testimony in front of not
only forensics faculty, but legal experts as well. Forensics students
learn everything from collecting evidence to processing it and
testifying to its significance — the complete package!
Reaping the Rewards of Research
Do buildings matter? Enrollment in chemistry-based programs
in terms of credit hours is up 50 percent since the building opened in
January 2012. A recent chemistry job fair organized by the university’s
Placement Center had three large employers in our area state
they would have 750 new job openings for chemistry majors becoming
available in the next five years. That certainly created some buzz
among our students! Both the Department of Physics and the Department
of Chemistry have successfully argued for and received new
faculty lines to accommodate their growth in a difficult budgetary
environment experienced all over the country in higher education.
The building design also focused on building student community
among our science majors with spaces designed for study
groups, tutoring and a small fast food restaurant run by our
campus food provider, Aramark. We have been very pleased with
the outcomes as students spend a lot of time between classes in
the building taking advantage of all the space designed for them to
interact in informal settings.
A steady flow of school children comes to visit us and spend a day
experiencing what our labs and facilities can offer as our faculty give
generously of their time for demonstrations and lab exercises in our
“college for a day” program. We are very gratified that science teachers
from central and eastern Kentucky are bringing their students to
see what college life is like for STEM students and the opportunities
that await them. Our summer STEM academy fills to capacity with
middle and high school students who come to explore the discoveries
that can be unlocked with scientific analysis and study.
Do buildings matter? Watch the space to the north of New Science
Building Phase I as construction starts in November 2014 on the
$68-million addition known as “Phase II.” When completed for Fall
2017 classes, it will house the Departments of Biological Sciences and
Geography/Geology. Excitement is building across these programs as
the faculty and architects have finished the drawings for Phase II and
after a very successful bid opening in October. Phase II will continue
the hands-on, wet lab experience in biology courses as well as accommodate
the growing amount of fieldwork faculty in both departments
are bringing to their curriculums. Even the outdoor space around the
building was designed as a living ecological lab by directing the storm
runoff through a series of pools, waterfalls and bogs that allow the
runoff to soak in rather than enter the city’s storm drains.
The two phases, joined at a common lobby area constructed
in Phase I, will provide over seven acres of science research and
learning space in one building. STEM education will take a significant leap once Phase II is completed and all four departments are
once again under one roof.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.
Dr. John Wade serves as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Eastern Kentucky University (www.eku.edu).