By Janeece Woodson, Staff Writer
Celebrating the official opening of a new facility, the Science Learning Building, on November 10, the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Arts and Sciences held a ribbon-cutting ceremony, featuring remarks from both faculty and students.
The university first broke ground for the new building, which adjoins the Benton and Stadler buildings on North Campus, on December 9, 2013. Most construction was completed by the summer of 2016, in time for certain summer laboratory classes. During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ronald Yasbin, UMSL Chancellor Thomas George, and students Victoria Rogers, senior, biochemistry and biotechnology, and Stephanie Theiss, senior, biology, expressed their excitement for everyone who will use the facility.
“It makes you feel good just to walk in here,” said Chancellor George. He informed the audience of students, faculty, alumni, and investors of the steps involved in financing the building. When a reduction of funds for budgets was announced, but never officially enacted, the university decided to turn the unused funds into capital, via bonds. The new building will cost an estimated $32 million. George indicated that the current state of interest rates and the climate for borrowers made this a wise decision for the university.
The new building, which is comprised of 75,000 square feet covering four floors, includes spaces designed for group study sessions, a solarium, a coffee shop, and labs equipped with the latest technology for chemistry, biology, biochemistry, and biotechnology labs. Its large windows and open floor plan are intended to optimize creativity and socialization. “Every student needs that space on campus where they can feel at home, where they can feel comfortable,” said Rogers. “This new building truly gives to our students that home base.”
Each lab in the new building follows a module design, encouraging a community atmosphere with open communication, rather than the isolation associated with older lab designs. “The upgraded teaching labs are my new favorite part of the addition,” said Theiss. “The benches allow for larger class sizes and this encourages lab students to enroll each semester.” In addition, the building meets the criteria set by the U.S. Green Building Council. Yasbin added that the labs are designed acoustically for instructors’ voices to reach every student in the lab, while smaller lab groups can have discussions without distracting one another.
However, since the opening of the new building, some students have already noticed flaws in its design. One student noted that there are no longer locks on the storage space for individual students’ equipment, for which students are held accountable throughout their use of the labs. Another reported issues with the gas valves used in labs, as they were still connected to the system used in the old Benton and Stadler buildings. “Everyone has their own vacuum, cold water, and air,” said Omar Saffaf, junior, biochemistry and pre-med. “And everyone signs for their stuff, but there are no locks.”
Yasbin added that many students have commented on the increased quality of light and air in the new building, qualities that contribute to a positive learning environment. “The laboratories are all set up for the modern approach for teaching labs, that is, more interaction,” said the dean. “So there’s a lot more student engagement, and it’s not a passive learning experience—it’s an aggressive and active learning experience, and the environment emphasizes that.”
Besides the new workspaces, students have full access to brand-new equipment. “There are new microscopes, new models for anatomy classes, new molecular biology equipment, a new ultra-water purification system, new spectrophotometers,” said Wendy Olivas, chair of the biology department. She hopes that the new layout and equipment, and all the subsequent possibilities for learning and discovery, will excite students about their laboratory courses.
During the ceremony, the dean spoke about the bigger picture for the future of the College of Arts and Sciences. He referenced UMSL’s beer brewing course, and stated that a lab in the new building will be specifically dedicated to the food sciences. Yasbin points to this as a result of bridging the arts and humanities with the hard sciences. “It really gives a much broader knowledge base to our students, makes them more competitive in the job market, helps their creativity,” he said. He added that the versatility of the labs in the new building reflects the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and design, and mathematics) initiative. Yasbin said, “There is concern about producing students who don’t appreciate the arts and the humanities and are being left out of the creative aspects, and so STEAM puts the arts and the humanities back into the whole approach, to meet what America really needs.”