Monmouth College president Mauri Ditzler was one of the featured speakers at the 24th annual College and University Science and Engineering Facilities Planning Conference in San Diego, Calif., last week.
In fact, Ditzler’s remarks kicked off the event, as Monmouth’s $40 million Center for Science and Business addressed one of the conference’s five “big ideas” – the integration of science and engineering disciplines and interdisciplinary space.
The conference was held for academic science planning teams – from facility planners and engineers to college administrators and faculty – to learn the latest standards, concepts, processes and numbers for best-in-class science programs and facilities. There were approximately 250 participants.
“They were interested by our unique mix of science and business,” said Ditzler. “That mix caught a lot of people’s attention.”
Ditzler said he focused his remarks on four key messages: the “long and arduous” process of constructing a lab building; ensuring that the building “fits” its campus; how campuses change during the 8- to 10-year building cycle; and the difference between integrated and interdisciplinary learning.
Discussing the latter message, Ditzler provided an example of interdisciplinary learning using speech and chemistry, which happened to be his two majors in college.
“The intersection of those two disciplines might be giving a speech about chemistry,” he explained, “but in integrated learning, we are more concerned with the commonalities of the disciplines. We’re looking for aspects of one discipline that reinforce the learning of another discipline.”
Using those subjects again as an example, Ditzler asked, “What is it about public speaking that makes me a better chemist?” The ability to organize thoughts is important for someone giving a speech, he said, but it is also an essential part of preparing an equation or an experiment.
“So when we designed our building, we didn’t want to focus on intersections, such as having biology next to chemistry, and where the two departments touch, that’s biochemistry,” he said. “We wanted to get all the students and faculty in the building to mix – not just a few. That’s why we put in the Great Room. We imagine them all being together in an integrated learning environment.”
In discussing a building’s fit, Ditzler said it’s important to not simply find “10 good ideas” and try to incorporate them all into the plans.
“If you build a building with those 10 ideas, you won’t be happy with the final product, because some of those ideas fit someone else’s campus, not yours,” he said. “Use the ideas as guides, but find out which ones best fit the focus of your campus. In our case, our driving idea was the focus on the integration of knowledge.”
Of the long and arduous building process, Ditzler said he encouraged audience members “not to lose heart even if, somewhere along the line, it seems the project is impossible. There will be a day that the building is completed if you persevere.”
Since designing and constructing a facility can take up to a decade from inception to completion, Ditzler said it’s important to not let the idiosyncratic demands of a faculty member or two – or even a college president – shape the building’s design.
“Don’t go with passing ideas,” Ditzler told the conference’s participants. “In a given decade, the faculty turnover at many colleges is going to be 50 percent. Focus instead on what’s not going to change – the mission and vision of the college.”
Ditzler noted that college presidents aren’t always around by the time a multi-year building cycle is completed, but quickly added, “This one intends to be.”
A dedication ceremony for Monmouth College’s Center for Science and Business will be held on May 10, 2013, and the building will be in use for next year’s fall semester.