The number of students majoring in the sciences has quadrupled since the opening of the Owens Science Hall and O’Shaughnessy Science Hall, and the additional students and newly hired faculty require more space than both buildings provide.
The number of students majoring in the sciences has quadrupled since the opening of the Frey Science and Engineering Center, and the additional students and newly hired faculty require more space than both buildings provide. (Kelsey Broadwell/TommieMedia)
“In 1997 when the Frey Science and Engineering Center (Owens Hall and O’Shaughnessy Science) opened there were 229 undergraduate students majoring in biology, chemistry, physics, geology and engineering,” Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Terrence Langan said. “Today, there are 1,007 undergraduate students majoring in the sciences.”
With the increased demand, majors like biochemistry, environmental science and neuroscience have been added. However, the expansion may be happening too quickly.
“Right now, we’re on half a floor in O’Shaughnessy Science Hall basement with 12 full-time faculty,” associate engineering professor Greg Mowry said.
Faculty members are not the only ones feeling confined by the space. Senior biology major Jane Lucas said students “are definitely feeling the squeeze.”
“I work in a lab where people are having to walk through it to get to another lab,” Lucas said.
Senior Luke Ginger said a few offices on the first floor of Owens Science Hall are like miniature cubicles.
“We have doubled the number of students in biology and faculty in biology without increasing the space,” Lewis said.
Lamb said the 200-level geology classes used to have about 14 students but have doubled to around 30 students. The 300-level class has also doubled. Lamb said that J-Term course enrollments have shot up too, and only majors get those slots.
Though senior Tom Langer said space is definitely tight, he believes the university is doing a good job using what it has.
“We recently turned a seminar room in OWS into a geo-chemistry lab. It is designed to hold eight students, but we have labs of 16 (students),” geology department chair Lisa Lamb said. “We are excited that we got this space, but we are going to have to squeeze.”
Tim Lewis, professor and chair of the biology department, said that “the problem isn’t just (being) crunched for space; it is that some programs like neuroscience are in the wrong buildings, and that’s not an easy solution.”
“They need the same labs as science majors do, and they are in a building that was not built for that,” Lewis said.
Right now, half of the neuroscience classes are in OWS, and the other half are housed in the John Roach Center.
The tight squeeze has also caused the departments to often share resources.
“It’s really nice that we can collaborate and that makes us stronger, but it also puts some limitations on us,” Lucas said. “We like to use some of the same machines as the geology department, but it is tough when there is a back up on how much time someone is going to be using it.”
Lewis said the department hopes to alleviate some of the issues over the summer.
“The university cares deeply, and they have been giving us good resources, short of building us an expensive new building,” Lewis said. “This summer, we will carve up hallway space in both buildings and turn it into offices. We have had to convert closets into offices, and we have had to give up several labs to create offices.”
However, if high enrollment numbers persist, Lewis said the long-term plan would be to expand a wing toward the parking lot between Loras Hall and OSS.
“The administration all knows of the science and engineering needs, and the first step is raising money, which takes a long time,” Lewis said. “The overall plan seems to be to build a science wing when it can be done, but we are not at the stage where one draws up plans.”
Lamb said a group of math, science, and engineering chairs are meeting at an upcoming retreat to talk about where added space is needed.
“If a new wing goes in, we will want to defragment our space and make it a more cohesive space,” Lamb said. “So if students are doing research, they are nearby, which is good for questions and safety reasons.”
Kelsey Broadwell can be reached at email@example.com.