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Chemistry department adapts to growing interest

By , Reporter  |  Sunday, March 17, 2013 9:41 PM

New labels, a 3-D periodic table, improved study spaces and colorful hallways are in store for the chemistry department in the O’Shaughnessy Science Hall.

Department Chair Tony Borgerding said this fourth floor project is similar to those already undertaken by the engineering and biology departments and is aimed at welcoming chemistry majors and minors.

“Our goal is to create a healthy atmosphere,” Borgerding said. “We want students to feel more at home in the department, and better able to identify with what they’re studying.”

The newly installed periodic table in the chemistry department will soon to be replaced by a 3-D or artistic version. This and other changes in the department hope to develop a better environment for students and staff. (Maggie Whitacre/TommieMedia)

The newly installed periodic table in the chemistry department will soon to be replaced by a 3-D or artistic version. Changes in the department hope to develop a better environment for students and staff. (Maggie Whitacre/TommieMedia)

Students agree that the upgrades are needed. Senior Sam Jensen, a biochemistry major, said the changes will be positive and he wishes that they had been implemented sooner during his time at St. Thomas.

“Normally when you come to the department, it’s basically nothing decorative. Just maybe a few posters about upcoming events, so the upgrades will be good” Jensen said. “Part of me that thinks, ‘Darn it, I wish they had done that while I was around.’”

A beautification committee, made up of five faculty members, proposed the changes. Gabriela Uzcategui, a chemistry professor and member of the department’s beautification committee, said appearance changes on the fourth floor of OSS will also help with the branding of the chemistry department.

“Sometimes freshmen struggle to find their classrooms because they don’t even know where the chemistry department is,” Uzcategui said. “These changes will be a way of guiding them.”

Because the math and statistics departments are also located on the same floor, confusion among new students is common. At the beginning of the semester, the chemistry department labeled the seminar rooms, in addition to having them marked by a room number.

Jensen, a mentor for one of the learning communities that uses the seminar rooms, has already seen a difference.

“During the first few weeks of the semester, I noticed that they had labeled the seminar rooms,” Jensen said. “That helped freshmen and sophomore students find our room a little bit easier.”

Another visible change within the department is the addition of a large periodic table poster. The current model that is posted is temporary because the chemistry department hopes to create a 3-D version.

“We’ve got a new periodic table in a central space where you get off of the elevators on the fourth floor of OSS,” Borgerding said. “Long term, we hope to make it a real periodic table with samples of each element in glass cases.”

If the department does not acquire enough funds for a 3-D table, it will make an artistic version with the help of students. While this option would be cheaper, it wouldn’t be completed this spring. Uzcategui estimated that the new periodic table, whether 3-D or artistic, would not be done until the end of 2013.

Two other long-term goals are more effective study areas and more engaging hallways. The chemistry department is physically the same size as it was when it was first founded, but the number of students has doubled. The department hopes to install more desk space, and put dry erase boards on the walls to assist students with their homework.

The plan for the hallways is to colorfully chronicle significant chemical concepts.

“We want to put decals on the walls that would exhibit the chronological history of chemistry,” Uzcategui said. “We hope to include interesting stories and important people on this wall display.”

Biology major senior Daniel Burdick said appearance changes in the chemistry department wouldn’t make a difference to him in regard to his major or career interest, but that it might matter to incoming freshmen.

Chemistry major junior Alex Ojala agreed with Burdick. She said the small changes already implemented have made the department more inviting and will continue to do so in the future.

“I think that during tours for prospective students, the modifications will make the department seem more exciting and not as dull,” Ojala said.

Current students should expect to see more exciting changes because recent developments are merely the beginning, Uzcategui said.

“What we have done so far is kind of like the tip of an iceberg,” Uzcategui said.

Maggie Whitacre can be reached by whit0467@stthomas.edu.

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