In the News: 'Augustana’s New Building Matches Level of Learning'
Phase I of the project, a 41,000-square-foot addition at the corner of 33rd Street and Summit Avenue, opens for classes this week. Phase II, which is underway now, features a complete renovation of the existing Gilbert Science Center.
Augustana’s New Building Matches Level of Learning
By Jodi Schwan, Sioux Falls Business Journal
When Eric Wells became a physics professor at Augustana University in 2003, the school had 13 students majoring in physics.
That number has grown to about 50 students and reflects a larger surge in science-related majors, he said.
“They’ve all grown by double-digits percentages. We’ve seen trends over time toward more and more of that.”
The increases combined with an increasingly outdated facility, the Gilbert Science Center, led the university to develop its new Froiland Science Complex, which opened for classes this week.
The largest and most complex building project in Augustana’s 156-year history, the 125,000-square-foot facility combines new construction with the attached Gilbert building, which will be renovated. The Froiland Science Complex was the third largest building project in the four-county Sioux Falls metro area in 2015.
Gilbert dates back to the 1960s and had become a limiting factor in terms of the school’s ability to serve students and faculty, President Rob Oliver said.
“We needed to eliminate that barrier,” he said. “There have been lots of gains in design and obviously lots of changes in teaching methods and styles. Now, our students are learning what students used to learn in graduate school or beyond as undergraduates.”
For example, a typical undergraduate experiment today won a Nobel prize in 1986, Wells said.
“It’s kind of a routine thing now.”
The new building will attempt to create space conducive to that level of learning, Oliver said, while immersing students in a scientific environment and enhancing undergraduate research capability.
There are 867 students enrolled in majors within the natural science division. Of those, 234 are studying nursing, which has several customized classrooms in the new Froiland Science Complex designed to help simulate various medical situations.
The next biggest chunk is the 229 students majoring in biology.
Many of those science students will take classes in a “classatory,” where classroom space flows into laboratories. Other classrooms are set up to shift away from the traditional style of a teacher lecturing a class and into a more collaborative, interactive style, where students share screens and work is displayed for all to see.
“The building is designed to optimize interaction. That’s an interaction between faculty and students, between students with each other and between faculty members. That’s what makes us successful with student outcomes and relationships, and the reputation of the institution is built on that.”
– Rob Oliver, president
The Froiland complex will be helpful in recruiting and retaining staff, said Wells, who also is overseeing the building project.
“It was difficult to sell the building to new faculty over the years. This is much easier,” he said. “The laboratories should not be a hindrance to doing whatever kind of research you’re doing, so that will be a big change for us.”
The estimated $35 million project is about two-thirds complete. Work now moves inside the Gilbert building, which is being renovated to include a large auditorium, a new greenhouse and more classroom space. It’s scheduled to be done by the time classes start in August.
Colleges and universities in the area are important feeders for businesses that depend on graduates in science fields, said Wade Robey, chief technology officer at Poet.
The ethanol producer recently has hired Augustana graduates in biology and biochemistry.
“It’s been very good. We hire from all the South Dakota institutions,” he said. “We tend to find people with either a BS degree or advanced degrees who are from the Midwest or areas near South Dakota and tend to appreciate the lifestyle and culture that exist here in Sioux Falls.”
Robey also hires several interns annually from area colleges and said he has found the quality of students to be steadily improving.
“That’s a testament to the type of programs our local universities and colleges have put in place, but also the interaction they’re having with companies like Poet,” he said. “It’s so nice to be in a place like Sioux Falls with so many colleges and universities around us. It really gives us an advantage. You always want more, but I think the stock we have coming out of this area is terrific.”