Students, faculty anticipate new science labs

Although the echoes of “R.I.P. Larned Beach” may have only just faded from the minds of students who have been around since before 2014, it’s never too early to look toward the future of what will ultimately come out of the frustration of the major construction project that has consumed the portion of campus between the library and Crocker Grove.

With 16 new laboratories currently being installed into the more than $70 million Hemenway project, faculty members and students reflected on the significance of the expansion here at FSU.

Weighing in at four floors and 42,000 square feet, this massive addition proves unambiguously Framingham State’s intention to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs, which have been set as a priority by President Barack Obama and his administration.

According to the Department of Education’s website, Obama has called for American universities to help graduate more STEM students through excellent education practices, allocating funding to this cause. FSU is on the receiving end of this arrangement, with more than $54 million of the project coming from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with no increase in tuition or fees.

This bureaucratic chain of research, approval, financing, design, and construction ends with the students and their professors, who do the work that the STEM initiative embodies.

Faculty members such as food science Professor Vinay Mannam have felt the effects of the initiative, noticing high enrollment in the sciences.

“With consistent increase in the number of students taking science courses, there’s high demand for lab space,” he said, “so the addition will be a great boost.”

Unfortunately, FSU’s current labs and technology seem to lack the quality to live up to the brio of campus scientists.

“Right now many of our teaching and research spaces are rather depressing in how old and outdated they are,” said biology Professor Aviva Liebert. “What I think will be the main benefit of the expansion is the modern upgrades to the new biology laboratories.”

Not only are the labs outdated, Liebert said, but workspaces in 53-year-old Hemenway Hall often lack basic modern teaching tech, such as LCD projectors, document cameras and even power outlets.

“I am looking forward to teaching in a bright and modern space that better suits the needs of our science courses,” Liebert said.

Mannam said that, “For faculty, I expect we can get more time to prepare for labs. Currently, with labs being used all the time, the time for dedicated and intensive preparation for faculty is very minimal.

“With this extension, I hope to fully utilize our lab space and enhance student lab experience,” he added.

Senior biology major Taylor Tocci said the new rooms in Hemenway will “attract more potential students because of the advances in technology they will have,” and teachers will be able to do “more varied” types of projects. Specifically, Tocci said, the enhanced climate control systems throughout the building will be vital.

“Some experiments need a constant temperature for them to work,” she said. “Plus, who wants to be on the 5th floor of Hemenway when its 95 degrees?”

Kat Donovan, a senior environmental science major, also discussed this need for increased efficiency in students’ ability to do their necessary work. Donovan is currently working on a thesis project for which she has to conduct her own research and experiments.

Of the new workspace and tech, Donovan said, “It will probably make it easier to get things done on time and more efficiently, which would give better results for me overall as a science student.”

Senior environmental science major Rachel DeFronzo described her frustration at occasionally having to use old or makeshift scientific equipment.

She said that, for future STEM students at FSU, “It’s going to be nice to have new equipment and clean labs. The labs are fine now, but they’re just old.”

“It’s definitely going to be more attractive to prospective science students,” she added.

Bailey McLernon, a junior chemistry major, said, “Not only will the current students benefit, but these new lab facilities could be a major enticement to students considering Framingham State University in a STEM major. The new addition onto Hemenway Hall will certainly benefit both the science students and the faculty.”

Perhaps the most in need of improved facilities is FSU’s burgeoning nursing department, as described by nursing professor Susan Conrad, who has been involved in the design of the expansion’s nursing wing since 2009.

Currently, FSU’s nursing program – both graduate and undergraduate – operates out of a single classroom in Hemenway and a lab in the basement of Dwight Hall, Conrad said. These two rooms act as their classroom as well as their simulation room, which recreates in detail an actual hospital room for maximum authenticity.

However, upon completion of the Hemenway expansion, the nursing department will preside over an entire hallway, increasing the working space for nursing education by roughly five times.

“Just space and size-wise, it’s significant,” she said. “But what’s going in is even more significant.”

The new nursing suite will feature a new classroom, an expanded physical assessment lab, three simulation rooms (including one-way mirrors for supervision), a debriefing room for post-exam discussion, utility rooms and a control room to monitor all aspects of the students’ work.

“The most important thing about these additions is that, in order for nurses to learn, it has to be as close to the real thing as possible,” Conrad said.

Conrad described how this state-of-the-art addition will “essentially double our undergraduate program.

“It’s just amazing,” she said. “Quite wonderful.”

Although Hemenway’s new additions will certainly raise the bar for Framingham State’s involvement in the sciences, FSU alumni, such as 2012 graduate Alex Martin, a food and nutrition major while here, have said that it is not the only facet to a quality science education.

“It’s great to have state-of-the-art equipment, and state universities should have respectable laboratories. But in my opinion, the quality of education roots more from the faculty than it does from the equipment,” Martin said. “It’s all about having great people in your organization.”

Martin, a registered dietician now pursuing his master’s at Harvard Extension School, said that some chemistry students from his class have described having to adapt in the working world to labs more basic than FSU’s current standard. The quality of instruction, Martin said, is what means the most.

He added, “Expensive eyeglasses don’t necessarily make you a better reader, right?”

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