When Franklin College’s new science center is complete, students will have more than double the space to research microbiology, chemistry and other disciplines.

Multi-use classrooms are planned to blend lectures and labs seamlessly, allowing students to immediately test concepts they’re learning. Wireless capabilities and interactive projectors will take full advantage of new technologically advanced instrumentation.

With the long overdue update and expansion of its existing science building, the college will finally have a state-of-the-art facility to match students’ innovative ideas.

“We’re trying to blur the distinction between lecture and lab. It’s really nice to be talking about something and then say, ‘Now, let’s do it,’” said Steve Browder, professor of biology at the college. “Right now, we do lecture in the classroom and then move into a lab space. We want it to be one seamless process.”

Franklin College broke ground on its new $17 million science center on Thursday, bringing to a close a planning process that was put in motion 10 years ago. Work on the center is expected to start in June, and be finished in time for classes to start in 2018.

With the new center, and the college’s refocused science curriculum, school officials believe that Franklin College is poised to be an even greater contributor to the growing life sciences industry in Indiana.

“The big institutions of Indiana cannot be the only providers of higher education. There are students for whom a small-college setting is better suited,” said Thomas J. Minar, president of the college. “But we need to be able to provide as good and as strong a scientific education as they get in those places. This will be a state-of-the-art science education facility to make sure our students have that.”

From 2006 to 2016, science has become a major focus for Franklin College and its students. The biology and chemistry programs have the greatest total number of graduates over the time, tied only with journalism. Those graduates made up 12 percent of all students earning a degree from the college.

The school also has shown success preparing those graduates for their careers. Following graduation, 53 percent of natural science graduates have started jobs in the field within six months.

The acceptance rate for Franklin College graduates to medical school has been 79 percent, and 100 percent of students have been accepted to pharmacy school during that time.

“The approach that we’re taking to education is workforce development. What we’re doing is preparing a workforce for a key engine of economic growth in the state,” Minar said.

The current science building on campus, Barnes Hall, was built in 1927. Science was taught differently then, Browder said.

The design of classrooms and labs will be flexible, allowing professors to configure the spaces to best suit their teaching. That flexibility will also give the college a chance to adapt as educational needs change.

“Many of our classrooms there were kind of tiered classrooms. That’s a vestige of this old idea of faculty members lecturing out to the students. Now, we’d like to do more interactive group work, having the students get together on things in clusters,” Browder said.

Barnes Hall has 8,839 square feet of lab space. Only one laboratory dedicated exclusively to research is available, forcing all students to share space.

When it is complete, the new science center will address those shortcomings. Architects have planned to double the amount of lab space to 16,217 square feet, adding two more research labs as well.

“The research labs are really important in the role of research in state-of-the-art undergraduate education,” Minar said. “It’s really an important element of the liberal arts experience and a high-performing undergraduate experience. Students gain so much from doing that.”

A dedicated teleconferencing room will allow students to engage in experiments and collaborative projects with professors and students from other colleges around the world.

Collaborative learning spaces are some of the most prominent features of the new building, Browder said. Open spaces with seating, tables, white boards and other equipment will give students a place to meet in small groups to work together. Nine of the dedicated spaces have been planned in the new center.

“When we went to visit other campuses to look at science buildings that were being constructed, what everyone said was students want these informal spaces to hang out, interact and work on their schedules,” Browder said.

An outdoor courtyard and rain garden will provide an additional meeting place both for students and special campus events.

In addition to the existing departments in biology and chemistry, among others, psychology will be moving into the new science center. Formerly housed in Old Main across campus, the department will now be more integrated in the science community on campus, Browder said.

“For the first time, they’ll have access to real lab space. It will really be a chance for other sciences to collaborate with them,” he said.

The college developed its Campaign for the Sciences in an effort to address a shortage of qualified and ready-to-work graduates moving into the life sciences industry.

In 2011, the college shifted its curriculum to focus more on active, engaged learning. Students were encouraged to be more hands-on in their studies, getting involved in research and other large-scale projects instead of leaning on lectures and textbooks.

“There’s been a national consensus that’s emerged over the last four or five years that the best way to learn science is by doing science. Project-based learning, inquiry-based labs and undergraduate research are all what we’re striving for in terms of ways to instruct students,” Browder said.

Those concepts already have been integrated into the college. Undergraduate students have completed research projects in everything from the population of beechdrop plants at Hougham Woods east of Franklin to the wetlands flora at Blue Heron Park to the migration of dabbling ducks.

A master’s program in athletic training started in 2016, the first graduate program at Franklin College.

“What we’re doing with liberal arts education at Franklin College is trying to build connectivity between liberal arts education and world-of-work, how you apply the liberal arts,” Minar said. “In the world of science and life sciences, the work is research. If they can get some research experience here, they’re ready for that lab career.”

With the future curriculum already decided and implemented, the design of the new science center was simplified.

“The elements of the building just came together around that particular concept,” Browder said.

The center, designed by BSA LifeStructures, took input from the different disciplines in forging a structure that met the collective needs of all of the sciences.

Construction of the new portion of the science center is anticipated to be ready in 2018. At that point, work will start on renovating existing Barnes Hall, which will be done by 2019, Browder said.

The college has raised $8.4 million of its $10 million fundraising goal for the new science center, and fundraising will continue. The board of trustees also approved issuing a $17 million tax-exempt bond to finance a portion of the project as well as to refinance existing debt.

“It’s been a very rewarding process because we’ve had various elements of the community come together. Student input has been important, faculty have helped drive the process and our very supportive trustees made it happen,” Minar said. “But we also have a donor community that’s been committed to advancing the project and has stepped up to provide the philanthropic support to make projects like this happen.”

At a glance

Franklin College Science Center

What: Expansion and renovation of existing Barnes Hall to better facilitate science education at the college.

Size: 51,000 square feet

Cost: $17 million

Features:

  • Nearly doubling lab space from 8,839 square feet to 16,217 square feet.
  • Flexible classrooms and lab spaces that can be repurposed as educational needs change.
  • Nine collaborative learning spaces where students can work as small groups together and with faculty members outside of class.
  • Improved technology to in the classroom to take advantage of new equipment, web-based resources and distance learning.
  • An attached greenhouse for botany and other courses.
  • Sustainability features, such as a rain garden to handle 100 percent of the stormwater runoff; open spaces for outdoor classrooms and social events; LED lights in all light fixtures, and large windows for more natural light.

Timetable: The new building will be open for classes by fall 2018.

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.