STEM @ Drake comes to fruition

Drake University A third-floor classroom in The Science Connector Building features a view of Drake Stadium. The classroom will host courses related to human performance and wellness, in subjects including, kinesiology, athletic training and more. Photo courtesy of Drake University

Drake University has a new type of water cooler.

Two years of construction and nearly $30 million in donations helped turn the STEM @ Drake initiative into the Science Connector Building and Collier-Scripps Hall. The $52 million project is to meet calls for more science- and math-based education.

The $21 million, 55,000 square foot Science Connector Building clusters the neuroscience, molecular biology, human performance and environmental science departments; The $15 million, 50,000 square foot Collier-Scripps Hall is home to the Department of Education, Mathematics, Computer Science and The Robert D. and Billie Ray Center.

Emily Anderson— a senior studying Enviornmental Science and biology—says professors are calling it the, “New water cooler.”

“Just because that way you can see what other people are doing in a more casual way,” Anderson said. “You can see students there as well as other professors.”

Fellow senior Noah Skantz said the new concept better prepares him for medical school and other students for life after Drake University.

“They are moving to a model where they don’t keep medical students by themselves, they are together with the pharmacy and dentistry students,” Skantz says. “This really reflects that.”

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Making students marketable

Standing inside a classroom in the Science Connector Building Biology Professor Marc Busch explains that the room has no designated front, allowing the teacher to teach from anywhere.

And with three different projectors that can each split into four screens, students can work on multiple tasks at once.

“This room is designed for group work environment, rather than teachers speaking at students,” Busch says. “This allows students to engage and interact with each other, which is a skill some don’t want but is critical for their future. You have to be able to engage and interact with people. These type of rooms allow you to develop skills beyond just course material.”

Each floor of the Science Connector Building is themed to create a collaborative learning enviornment. The second floor was designed around a centralized lab that is accessible from six connected classrooms or labs. The third floor has a 120-foot-long track equipped with force plates so students from various programs can study how walking, running or sprinting affects human joints and the fourth floor has a greenhouse.

Keith Summerville, Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability, says the Science Connector Building was designed around learning outcomes, not academic departments.

“We are deliberately delivering instruction that is going to put somebody in a biochemistry class next to somebody in an environmental science class, to try and solve problems,” Summerville said. “Yet they are all working on the same problem, issues of human health and wellness, from a molecular perspective.”

Summerville says all of the rooms on the second floor spoke off the central hub where most of the research grade instrumentation is housed.

“If we can position ourselves as a friend to industry and use in our laboratories problem based learning that focuses on industry derived challenges or problems, we will be a much better partner with the city of Des Moines,” Summerville says. “And a much more elite institution for science education.”