School in New Orleans Unveils $15 Million Science and Technology Center

Isidore Newman, a college-prep school, has completed a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to life sciences, chemistry, physics and design.

by Della Hasselle, The Advocate / October 26, 2018

(TNS) — Spirits were bubbling in Andrew Hermann's tenth-grade chemistry class at Isidore Newman School on Wednesday morning, as students wearing protective goggles shouted as they huddled over one of several in-classroom laboratories.

As magnesium chloride began to react with metals placed in small test tubes, 15-year-old Brandon McGowan could barely contain himself.

"It just started exploding!" the sophomore exclaimed afterward. "It went crazy."

Hermann said the experiment, which involved six groups of students working simultaneously, became possible only after the completion of a new, $15 million science building students began using this fall.

On Thursday evening, the school officially unveiled the three-story, 30,000-square-foot Rupa and Tarun Jolly Science and Technology Building, a project that had been a priority for school leaders since 2014, officials said.

Its completion marks a major milestone in the school's overall master plan, which also includes the $6.5 million Green Trees Early Childhood Village that opened in 2015; a $5 million arts center featuring rehearsal halls, a black box theater and art studios; and a $3 million athletic complex complete with a spacious practice facility.

Named after its biggest benefactors and designed by Newman graduate Don Fant, along with the Woodward Design Group, the state-of-the-art science and technology facility houses the middle and upper school science program, with whole floors dedicated to the life sciences, applied chemistry, and physics & design.

Speaking about the importance of the new building, Tarun Jolly repeated a statistic underscored by the Smithsonian Science Education Center — that roughly 2.4 million jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are expected to go unfilled this year.

"Really, those jobs are not being filled because education is not fostering that kind of learning," said Jolly, who has four children attending Newman. "But when given the opportunity, even middle school students show real interest."

Officials said the new building, a culmination of nearly two decades of planning, was designed with a renewed focus on STEM education in mind.

However, it was Jolly's donation of $3 million — the largest in the school's history — that allowed for the final push to finish the state-of-the-art classroom laboratories and the kind of advanced equipment needed for student-led experimentation, officials said during a preview tour on Wednesday.

"I can do all of this at once, and I can have them talking and communicating to each other from the stations," said Hermann, the chemistry teacher, as he pointed to students crowded along a row of labs lined up against the wall of his classroom. "They get excited from each other."

The Jolly Sci Tech Building has a grand entrance atrium spanning multiple stories, large windows and classrooms outfitted with glass walls, electrical conduits, pipes and HVAC ducts.

With nine classroom laboratories and three labs, the building is meant to inspire multidisciplinary studies in biotechnology, genetic engineering, robotics and energy systems, officials said.

A state-of-the-art Makerspace, too, now gives students access to the latest technology used for design, fabrication and engineering, following a curriculum Newman adopted from the University of Texas at Austin.

There, students can use tools such as laser cutters and 3-D printers and a space dedicated for physical work, including saws, soldering irons and drills. The students will be able to design their own products, according to Nowell Hesse, the head of Newman's upper school.

Indeed, the most exciting thing about the building is that it has facilitated new academic offerings and has challenged teachers to push themselves to reimagine the curriculum to better fit with 21st century science, he added.

A control center charts the energy usage at Isidore Newman School’s new Rupa and Tarun Jolly Science and Technology Building Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2018, in New Orleans. Drs. Rupa and Tarun Jolly donated $3 million for the new science and technology building, which cost $15 million to build.

"The building is forcing teachers to say, 'How can I make better use of that lab?' " Hesse said.

This year, the school is offering new coursework in genetics, biotech, design and engineering, and advanced-placement computer science, officials said.

Looking to the future, teachers are hoping that the space will lead to longstanding partnerships with medical schools and universities, so that students can learn from and be inspired by top performers in STEM fields.

Dale Smith, the head of school, called the addition nothing short of "transformational."

"Perhaps more than any other subject, science is meaningfully enhanced by the physical environment and equipment," Smith said in a statement. "With this new facility, we are able to improve our already strong academic program to ensure that top-notch science teaching and learning continues for generations of Newman students."

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