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Science Center Plans, Groundbreaking

New Science Center brings better facilities, opportunities

By Astrid Guevara
On January 25, 2016

The University of St. Thomas held a groundbreaking ceremony for the new science center on Nov. 12. People from all ages, from nursing students to sponsors, came out to listen in anticipation as Dr. Ivany, fellow students, and other speakers shared their hopes for the new center, which is expected to be completed on Spring of 2017.  The science center will be home to the biology, nursing, and chemistry departments and other science concentrations which are still under development.

The process of planning and fundraising for the new building has been led by the Faith in Our Future Campaign, President Ivany, the Board of Directors, the Advancement Office, and friends and sponsors of the university. The building is taking $47.3 million to build, a goal that could not have been obtained in six years without the work and time of everyone involved in the process. The new building will be called the Center of Science and Health Professions (CSHP) and will complement the education provided at the University of St. Thomas.

It started as an idea that the biology faculty placed before Dr. Ivany when he first became president for the school, twelve years ago.

“It took a while,” he said, “but I felt that the biology faculty and the students deserved better facilities. That became our first priority in terms of fundraising.”

Fundraising was the most difficult problem the university faced, although faculty and students supported the plan for a new building.

“A lot of donors like to give money for scholarships, like to give their resources for programs,” Ivany said, “but, sometimes, they are reluctant to give money for bricks and mortar. We had to explain to our donors how important bricks and mortar, so to speak, were to the future of the University of St. Thomas.”

The planning for the science center had to undergo many different stages before being approved in 2012.  Fundraising for the fourth floor of the building, where chemistry will be housed, is still ongoing.

“We’re working very hard now to find donors to allow us to outfit and equip the fourth floor.”

The University of St. Thomas will benefit from the new center as it will enhance the programs set in place now.  It is evident to many faculty members and students that the largest obstacle in reaching the best education possible in the STEM fields in the past has been a lack of space.

“The faculty are fabulous,” said Dr. John W. Starner, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “We just don’t have enough space to teach you and you find yourself crisscrossing the labs to find the right facility.”

 Jennifer Hoang, senior biochemistry major and pre-dental student, has been involved in research since her freshman year and has hopes that the new building will fix the problem of space.

“What we have now does its job,” she said, “but you want a lot of space for many different groups to do research effectively. With the new building comes new equipment, new space.”

Research has been somewhat limited in the sciences, as research is done in the same spaces as lab classes. Research teams have to schedule lab work so that it doesn’t conflict with class times.

“One of the things which the new science center will provide is some dedicated research space for the science faculty and students,” said Dr. Palasota, former Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and current Chair of the Chemistry and Physics Department.

“Science is really learned in the lab and in order for our students to be competitive for graduate and professional schools, they must have research experience. Ultimately, research is one of the best teachers out there for students.”

The students of the university agree. Samee Hameed, senior biochemistry/philosophy double major and physics minor has experienced first-hand the importance of undergraduate research.

Hopefully, we get the opportunity for more research equipment and the opportunity to do more groundbreaking research,” Hameed said, “Research is an important part of getting into grad school and getting into medical school. I’m pretty proud to say that I’ve been a part of ground-breaking research and I hope that more students will be able to do that as the years come.”

It is vital for the university to keep growing in the sciences, said Dr. Ivany.

“There is a desperate need for more nurses and more specialists in the field of medicine and health care,” he said.

The new building will provide the university with much-needed room to grow in terms of enrollment.

“We have a large enrollment in our chemistry courses, which is a problem in biology and math as well,” Palasota said, “Having a new center gives us the additional lab space we need in order to be able to hold more sections of lab for the students to learn in.”

“There will be room to grow in the sciences so we can actually add more students,” said Starner, “those that would like to come here and get this fabulous liberal arts education tied to a STEM education.”

An increase in enrollment is something that the School of Nursing also hopes to obtain. Nursing students must undergo a stricter admissions process than other students. In order to pursue a major in nursing, they must be accepted into the university and also into the School of Nursing. This is because there is a fixed number of students that can be enrolled due to limited classrooms and simulation labs. Despite this, the nursing program has grown.

“I was the only nurse on campus until February of 2011,” said Dr. Tschirch, Dean of the School of Nursing. “We started with a faculty of one and no students in 2009, and now we have 71 nursing students and approximately 85 people who are in pre-nursing studies. We’ve graduated two classes and have seven full-time, two part-time faculty, and many adjunct faculty that help us with clinical teaching for our students. It’s a lot for two years. What I envision is that, with the new building, we will be able to expand and that we’ll all be together [in one place]. We feel very lucky to have the facilities we have, but the school is not going to be able to grow in enrollment. Certainly, the new building will make that possible.”

A graduate nursing program is also in the planning stages.

“We expect to add a graduate program,” she said. “A Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program is in the planning stages.”

Many believe the Center for Health and Science Professions will not just affect the sciences but will also allow for a strengthening of the University of St. Thomas’ liberal arts education.

“I think that our mission of educating leaders of faith and character is especially important for those students who are involved in the sciences, because so many of the bigger decisions that are facing us as a nation are bioethical or health-related,” said Ivany, “For our voices to be heard, to have a seat at the table, you have to have a moral compass…and at the same time you have to be professionally proficient.”

It isn’t uncommon that science majors also pursue a minor outside of the sciences, such as creative writing, music, or philosophy. This is thought to have been brought upon by the strong balance between faith and reason in the school’s curriculum.

“We have absolutely no question that the liberal arts and the faith-based nature of this university enriches our program,” said Tschirch.

Not only does a study of science not conflict with the liberal arts, but the two are thought to complement each other.

“I think it’s really important that, as a science major, you don’t forget about how you communicate with people and I think that’s what a small liberal arts school will provide,” Hameed said, “Getting a science degree from here is an extremely powerful step to being an impactful researcher, and impactful scientist, or and impactful physician.”

There are hopes also that the new building will bring more recognition to the university, both in the city and among the science community.

“I think what it will provide is an understanding that the University of St. Thomas is committed to educating students completely,” said Palasota, “both in their intellectual capacity as well as their emotional and spiritual capacity.”

Some express that other colleges are surprised to see students from the University of St. Thomas attend national research conventions.

“Having the science center will give us a new identity as a liberal arts school because, yes, we are a liberal arts school, but we also have a strong science program which a lot of people don’t realize,” said Hoang.

“They say the University of St. Thomas is the best-kept secret in Houston,” said Palasota, “Hopefully, we won’t be a secret too much longer.”

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