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SIUE adjusts to demand for science labs January 11, 2009

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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New science labs in University Park will help with overcrowding, but won’t be able to cut down the lab hours on the SIUE campus.

As Southern Illinois University Edwardsville goes into its 10th year waiting for a new science building, the university has leased space from University Park and outfitted two new science labs, and is moving the Geographic Information Systems department to the new building. The nine-month project cost $1.5 million.

Chancellor Vaughn Vandegrift said the exploding demand in SIUE’s science and pre-professional departments has led to a high demand for lab classes. The nursing department has gone from 350 students to more than 800 in the last four years, and the 360-student pharmacy school did not exist four years ago.

Overall, interest in SIUE has ballooned in recent years — five years ago, there were 3,000 applications for the freshman class. So far, SIUE has received 7,000 freshman applications for fall 2009.

“It speaks volumes about the quality of our institution,” Vandegrift said.

But it leads to crowded classrooms, and SIUE has been lobbying for a new science building — price-tagged at $80 million — for several years. Chemistry labs now run seven days a week, with classes held 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and biology labs are nearly as overrun. Those schedules will likely continue, with an additional five days a week at the new facility, Vandegrift said.

While SIUE waits for its new science building — held up in the state’s stalled capital bill — the labs in University Park should help keep up with demand, Vandegrift said. The space is leased from University Park, and if the time comes when it is no longer needed, the lab renovations should make it attractive to a biochemistry start-up company, he said.

“This facility will do an outstanding job at meeting the needs of the students,” Vandegrift said.

Those needs, especially the demand for space, are approaching “crisis,” according to John Danley, dean of science. “There were a lot less attractive outcomes,” Danley said. “We could be having labs in some trailer on campus.”

The labs take seven units in a new building next door to the ethanol research plant. It includes two labs, a materials preparation lab and more for the science labs.

The Geographic Information Systems department analyzes satellite images to evaluate changes in the earth. It does a lot of contract work, which Vandegrift described as a “revenue generator” for the university. GIS allows students to study and intern in the geosciences, and now it will have a new space with offices, map storage and drafting space. The space it evacuated on campus can be used by the growing nursing department.

But SIUE still needs a new science building, Vandegrift said, describing the new labs as an “interim solution.”

“We are hopeful that perhaps in some way, the science building might be a part of the stimulus package at the federal level,” he said. “Or perhaps the capital bill might re-emerge at the state level.”

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