After $35.3 million and 10 years of planning, lobbying the state and construction, Fort Lewis College students will finally be able to pursue learning in the state-of-the art Geosciences, Physics and Engineering Hall when school resumes Jan. 9.
“We’re already producing first-class scientists and first-class engineers here,” said Doug Lyon, professor of management at FLC. “And they have the communications, leadership-building and collaborative skills from our liberal arts tradition students might not get at (Colorado School of) Mines.”
The quality of the education is expected to go up as the new building goes online.
Workers are putting on finishing touches, the Air Force is building the telescope for the domed observatory, and professors are awaiting arrival of office furniture, but the shiny hallways and classrooms will bustle when the second semester starts.
A rare space“There are very few spaces like this in academia in this part of the country,” said professor Gary Gianniny, chairman of the Department of Geosciences. “You see them more in the corporate world. No students can hide, there is no back-of-the-room in this room.”
Two smart classrooms have portable whiteboards, one with a whiteboard circling much of the perimeter, and students will be able to plug in devices – such as laptops and tablets – and transmit their calculations to screens.
“It will allow faculty to share different solutions individual (group) tables have developed with the rest of the class,” said professor Ryan Haaland, department chairman of Physics and Engineering. “Table 5 is getting the right idea, or maybe to highlight common mistakes. ”
While Fort Lewis isn’t a research university, professors make a point of including students in research, and faculty-student research labs in all the related disciplines will allow more hands-on learning.
“This is not a little step forward, we’re jumping in with both feet,” Gianniny said. “We’re already group problem-solving; this will rocket us forward.”
The fluids lab, the first ready to go, includes a wind tunnel, water flume and the ability to do pressure experiments.
“Now, students will be able to leave experiments set up,” Haaland said. “Before, we were pushing things out of the way, and something always broke or damaged the experiment.”
Attention to detail is obvious everywhere.
“There’s a place on the base of the chairs to store backpacks,” Ginnany pointed out. “When a classroom is full of students, it looks like we’re waiting for a luggage cart at the airport.”
An aesthetic touchOther features in the hall include student study nooks, a break room and specimen storage areas. And, here and there, by the entrances and along hallways, pieces of art, mineral and fossil specimens and historical scientific instruments such as a Foucault pendulum and a sundial provide an aesthetic theme connected to the building’s mission.
“This is not only a state-of-the-art building,” FLC President Dene Thomas said. “It’s an artistic building with the Constellation Ceiling, Geologic Wall of Time and the pendulum. It’s science and art together.”
The Constellation Ceiling features the Big and Little Dippers, Orion, the Pleiades, Scorpio and Cassiopeia. Courtesy of FLC alumni, it was purposely designed to portray night skies that reflect the traditions and beliefs of area Native American tribes. A nearby monitor will explain the lore as well as give visitors a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening in the different labs in the building.
Most of the art has a purpose, Gianniny said.
“It’s to display the great connect between geosciences and physics, melding the study of our Earth in the context of the universe,” he said.
What’s in a name?While the state paid for most of the building, FLC’s Office of Advancement committed to raising $4.2 million. It has raised about $2.3 million.
A group of current and former geology professors and alumni are collecting $15,000 to sponsor a rock specimen display cabinet in honor of Frank. O. Bowman Jr., who founded the geology department.
Alumni Charles Baltzer and Peter M. Mesard will have spaces named after them, while a gift from La Plata Electric Association sponsored a gathering area, a dashboard display where students can monitor the building’s energy production from solar panels and to cover the costs entailed with the application to make the hall Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified.
P.J. and Tish Barney, a retired geologist and geochemist, respectively, wanted to sponsor a hands-on learning tool, and the result is a river table.
“It’s a way to see how rivers shape our environment,” Gianniny said. “We can try putting in a bridge abutment to see what happens, simulate spring runoff, watch how channels move through time, see a delta form.”
Major Gift Officer Dave Kerns helped the Barneys select the river table as their gift. He went one step further and drove a truck to Boulder to pick it up and bring it back to the college.
A number of naming opportunities remain, where anything from the domed observatory ($1 million) to an igneous rock slab ($2,500) can carry the donor’s name with the appropriately sized gift.
“I think it will be a lot easier to raise the rest now that donors can actually see the building,” said Mark Jastorff, vice president for advancement.
Final stage“This is the final stage of our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) complex, and at 59,000 square feet, it’s the largest building on campus,” Lyon said.
In addition to the GPE Hall, the college also built a new Chemistry Hall in 2001 for about $9.4 million and a new Biology Hall in 2010 for about $17.2 million. All told, in 2016 dollars, FLC and the state have invested almost $67 million in STEM facilities.
The investment is expected to draw students pursuing the fastest growing majors on campus. STEM majors have averaged an increase of about 10 percent annually for several years.