University of Central Oklahoma's New STEM Center to Open This Fall

The STEM Teaching and Research Center will bring together chemists, biologists, mathematicians, forensic scientist, engineers and others to work side-by-side in an innovative environment.

by Kathryn McNutt, The Oklahoman / July 5, 2018

(TNS) — EDMOND — History is repeating itself as faculty, and students await the opening of the STEM Teaching and Research Center this fall on the University of Central Oklahoma campus.

The two-story 56,000-square-foot building will bring together not only chemists and biologists, but also mathematicians, forensic scientists, engineers and others to work side-by-side under one roof.

That interdisciplinary concept is what won approval for the project, said Wei Chen, dean of the College of Mathematics and Science. "Each lab has people from different departments. It is not compartmentalized," said Chen, a physicist turned biomedical researcher.

"Problem-solving is not discipline-specific. It comes out of the confluence of these various disciplines," UCO President Don Betz said. "We've designed a space that is going to enhance that."

The faculty had a great deal of input, Betz said, and Elliott + Associates Architects used the information to support the design.

"It's unlike any science building I've seen — the openness and invitation to connect with other people," Betz said. "You put artists and scientists together, and this is what you get — a premier learning environment."

The hallways are wide, and 40 skylights bring natural light into the building. Glass walls offer a view of the teaching and research activity going on inside.

"Undergraduates today are doing what only graduate students could once do — research that absolutely matters," Betz said.

When students and potential students see that, "they feel immediately engaged in what's happening. It's a portal to be part of it," he said. "We need more citizens and individuals excited about and proficient in all areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)."

Architect Rand Elliott said the collaboration and transparency represent a complete paradigm shift and give students what they want.

"The millennial student is looking for an experience, not just an education," Elliott said.

Betz expects the building — located north of the Forensic Science Institute along the main entrance to the university — will recruit more students to explore STEM fields.

"Enrollment in these disciplines is growing and will continue to grow. This building represents the long-term investment the Oklahoma City metro has to this place," he said.

Chen is excited for the completion of his biomedical engineering research lab and the entire building.

"I've promoted the open lab policy, encouraging others to come in," Chen said. "If I have something you need, take it. We don't have the big research laboratory. That's how we overcome that."

Betz agrees.

"What we lack in resources, we make up in collaboration. It works well for the problems that have to be answered," he said.

The building includes a 180-person classroom that doubles as a storm shelter when needed, a forensic science laboratory and a nursing simulation lab that will allow more students into the UCO nursing program, Chen said.

The program can take 64 new students per semester and is turning away 100 qualified students every year, he said. The new space will allow a 15 to 20 percent increase in enrollment.

The new STEM building will be opened in October and a grand opening is scheduled Nov. 14.

The $24 million project is financed through bonds to be paid for through UCO College of Mathematics and Science facility fees. The university also is raising funds for interior needs through the Ignite the Future of STEM campaign.

It cost $450,000 to build the "new two-story science building on the Central State College campus" 70 years ago. While the price has gone up, the construction company has stayed the same. Lippert Bros Inc. built Howell Hall, the original science building, then and is building its replacement today.

©2018 The Oklahoman Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.