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Birmingham-Southern puts Science on Display with new state-of-the-art facility

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.-Birmingham-Southern College put Science on Display May 9th when it dedicated a new 100,000 square-foot, $24.1 million undergraduate science teaching and research facility.

The Elton B. Stephens Science Center at Birmingham-Southern will put Science on Display for the college's students beginning with the summer 2002 term in June.

The state-of-the-art Elton B. Stephens Science Center, which houses the most current technology in classrooms, laboratories, and support areas for biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and environmental science, will officially open for student use when the summer academic term begins June 12.

The Stephens Science Center is made possible through a $15 million gift from Elton B. Stephens and James T. Stephens of Birmingham, along with contributions from other individuals, corporations, and foundations. The Stephenses' contribution included a $5 million challenge gift.

Barbour County native Elton Stephens, a 1932 graduate of Birmingham-Southern and life member of its Board of Trustees, is chairman of the board and founder of EBSCO Industries Inc. His son, James Stephens, is president of EBSCO and vice chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Birmingham-Southern President Dr. Neal R. Berte said that the Stephens Science Center, which is one of the largest and most extensive facilities of its kind on a college campus this size in the country, represents a commitment to undergraduate science education.

"Most schools spend about $14 million to $16 million on their undergraduate science facilities," said Berte. "We're a school in the liberal arts, smaller college category, and yet we're spending $24.1 million. It shows the commitment of our Board of Trustees and our faculty."

Designed in consultation with the science faculty, the facility was planned around the college's science mission to foster collaborative, hands-on learning between students and faculty, interdisciplinary connections, and undergraduate research opportunities.

"We all know that we learn best by doing, and students will be actively participating in their science education at Birmingham-Southern," said Berte. "This approach to learning is facilitated by every aspect of the Stephens Science Center."

The building's focal point is a three-story atrium area that puts science on display in laboratories that open onto a common area. Eight student lounge areas will provide opportunities for students to gather and work collaboratively. More than 1,100 data port connections dot the facility allowing students to collect data in the laboratories, store it on a central server, and continue their work by again connecting laptops to the server or the Internet from the lounges or myriad other locations throughout the building.

Each faculty member will occupy one of the 25 offices, as well as one of the 25 research laboratories that will provide more opportunities to work collaboratively with students on research projects. The center also houses 19 teaching laboratories, a computer lab, three lecture halls, three classrooms, two seminar rooms, and a greenhouse, among other areas.

Computer-assisted instruction is available in the classrooms, which also are wired and include retractable projection screens that allow presentations from the Internet and other sources, all controllable by faculty and students from moveable podiums. The classrooms also include multi-tiered blackboards.\

A nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, funded through a recent $170,721 National Science Foundation grant, will be housed in the Science Center for use with investigative, problem-based laboratories and independent research in the chemistry program.

It's all contained within a flexible design that can be reconfigured to accommodate changing laboratory and space needs, existing and future teaching methods, and new technologies, according to Dr. Clyde Stanton, chair of the college's Division of Science and Mathematics.

"The facility is an outgrowth of a program developed by the faculty beginning in 1996 as a new approach to teaching science," explained Stanton. "The building allows us to put into action the concepts of interactive learning experiences for students, faculty interactions across disciplines, and undergraduate student research.

"The emphasis in learning science has been shifted to the laboratory and we will use this facility to focus on inquiry-based experiments. The opening of the Stephens Science Center ushers in an era of new opportunities for science education at Birmingham-Southern."

Some 25 percent of Birmingham-Southern students are pursuing either a science major or minor.

During the planning process, Arthur J. Lidsky, a facilities planning consultant who has participated in the review and design of science facilities across the nation including those at Georgia Institute of Technology and Northwestern University, among others, said "Upon completion, the Elton B. Stephens Science Center will be one of the finest examples of undergraduate science buildings in the country."

The center was designed by the architectural team of Perkins & Will of Atlanta, Ga., Garrison Barrett Group of Birmingham, and Research Facilities Design of San Diego. The general contractor was Birmingham's Brice Building Company. Nimrod Long & Associates Inc. of Birmingham was the landscape architect.

The sciences at Birmingham-Southern will continue to be highlighted during the 2002-03 academic year with a series of symposia and lectures involving local, regional, and national leaders in science and science education.

In June, Birmingham-Southern will begin a $4.3 million project to convert the Phillips Science Building, which has been home to the college's science program since 1951, into a center to accommodate the academic needs of the college's Division of Humanities. Phase I of the project will be ready for use by the start of the 2003 spring academic semester next February. Phase II of the project, scheduled for a later date, will include similar conversion of the Stephens Science Laboratory Center, which adjoins the Phillips Science Building.


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