The newest building at North Central College puts science on display as a place where students can study how the discipline interacts with other fields and prepare themselves for careers in this technological world, officials say.
The $60 million Science Center opened Monday, hosting its first classes a few months ahead of schedule as students at the Naperville campus returned from spring break.
Before students filed in for their 8 a.m. lectures, North Central officials highlighted features in the facility built as an upgrade to the 37-year-old Kroehler Science Center -- student collaboration spaces, movable classroom furniture, advanced ventilation and specialized laboratory technology.
But the best feature of the building is that it allows science to be taught and experienced in multidisciplinary ways, college President Troy Hammond said.
Blurring the boundaries between core sciences and fields such as math, computer science and political science is the way of the future, Hammond said, as the nation educates new professionals to grapple with climate change, water supply issues and energy demand.
"North Central College will be a college of destination for STEM education in the region," Hammond said, referring to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math -- all of which are taught in the new Science Center. "We can be and will be the source for the best scientific thinkers who are trained with a sound liberal arts education and well-prepared to be both citizens and leaders over their lifetimes."
Students such as Kelsey LaMartina, a junior biochemistry major, say they're excited to make the four-story, 125,000-square-foot facility their on-campus home.
"We'll take full advantage of all it has to offer," LaMartina said.
What it offers are a lecture hall, 15 classrooms, 19 student gathering spaces, 18 teaching labs and 16 research labs (with 53 fume hoods -- up from 13 in the old building).
Among those spaces are an animal care suite, a treadmill research room, a sleep study space and a psychological evaluation room. The building also has 53 faculty and staff offices, a first-floor cafe and a kitchenette on each floor for student use.
All of the new features "will dramatically enhance the quality of their education," said U.S. Rep. Bill Foster of Naperville, a former physicist at Fermilab who plans to host a forum on climate change at the new facility May 6 with meteorologist Tom Skilling.
Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico called the building a win for the college and the city. He said he imagines career paths and lives will change because of research and learning inside its walls.
At Loomis Street and Van Buren Avenue in downtown Naperville's historic district, the building takes the place of five college-owned houses and a dorm that used to occupy the property. Exterior work continues to install two outdoor classrooms and native landscaping around the building. Work also continues inside to ready the laboratories for use in the fall. But with the classrooms, lecture hall and gathering spaces up and running Monday, the building already was making a positive impression.
"The new science center has special meaning because the students can enjoy the perks of a small college while getting a world-class education in science," LaMartina said. "That's not just something you can find anywhere."