La Roche unveils $6.5 million Palumbo Science Center renovation - North Journal

La Roche unveils $6.5 million Palumbo Science Center renovation

Friday, January 10, 2020 | 4:34 PM

A 70 percent spike in undergraduate STEM majors at La Roche University drove a $6.5 million renovation of its Palumbo Science Center, with leaders touting its potential to make global society more just and peaceful.

“It is in these spaces that the human element, our students, our faculty and others will experience an education that has the potential to change the world in which we live,” said school president Sister Candace Introcaso.

University officials on Friday unveiled state-of-the-art labs, classrooms and collaborative research areas housed on the second floor of the center, nestled among the Babcock Boulevard campus.

“This was an old cinder block building,” Introcaso said. “Just like that TV show, we got an ‘Extreme Makeover’ and now have the ability to draw students for top-notch science facilities.”

The growing demand for STEM programming in areas like health care, technology and physics demanded a focus on the changing nature of classwork with more interactive and hands-on access.

The Division of Natural and Behavioral Sciences is the fastest growing academic division of the school, leaders said during Friday’s ribbon cutting.

Enrollment in STEM majors has increased by 70 percent in the last decade.

State Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, told the audience that he worked to secure taxpayer dollars for the project because it was a “vision designed to improve opportunities for many.”

About $1.5 million was awarded through two grants from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, and another $250,000 came from the state’s Multimodal Transportation Fund.

Turzai said he believes the renovations help fulfill the original mission of the university’s founders to create a world of compassion, justice and peace.

The Catholic co-ed college was founded in 1963 by the Sisters of Divine Providence. It now boasts more than 50 majors.

Classes begin Monday in the new labs, and senior Kayla Ordos can’t wait.

A forensic chemistry major, Ordos is an advocate for more females in STEM-related fields and believes the upgraded facilities will draw bigger numbers.

“Before, there was no room for a lot of the equipment, but now there are places for us to work and hang out and research,” she said. “It makes me want to be up here, learning, talking to my teachers and seeing what’s new.”

Constructed in the 1980s, the science center previously had inadequate lab space and crowded classrooms that weren’t conducive to progressive research.

“We did what we could, but it was an old building,” said Jack Werner, lab coordinator and micro-biology instructor. “Old pipes, old utilities. Now, we have rolling desks and tables topped with whiteboards so students can work together on physics equations, erasing when they need to and starting over. It’s remarkable.”

Designs for the renovation were drafted by Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff and Goettel; AIMS Construction was the contractor.

Chemistry professor Benjamin Mogesa said the new space gives students room to research, investigate, build and dream. Renovations brought more hands-on workspace, increased safety and improved designs for teaching, he said.

For example, his lab is now equipped with built-in stations for experiments, each with doors that pull down and block fumes.

“If you were working before on something, the suction wasn’t very good and the fumes might wander into the class,” he said. “It wasn’t very nice.”

Michael Andreola, vice-president for university advancement, thanked everyone involved in bringing the early sketches and dreams to reality. It was at times what seemed an inconceivable task and leaders are anxious to showcase the dramatic transformation to future generations of students.

“I pray that this is not only a place of learning, but a place to nurture community,” he said.