College of Science and Engineering
New ISELF lab at SCSU plugs students into real-world science
Sunday, August 18, 2013
In the new $45 million science building at St. Cloud State University, students such as Nneoma Mojekwu will work with each other and Minnesota companies to get real-life experience that could pay off when they enroll in graduate schools or seek jobs.
Mojekwu, who starts her final semester as an electrical engineering student Aug. 26, will be among the first group of students to use the Integrated Science Engineering Laboratory Facility. The university is having an official opening Wednesday after convocation.
“It is a building that will provide a wonderful opportunity for me and other science students to have more exposure and to have more quality education,” Mojekwu said.
St. Cloud State officials see ISELF, which has been a goal for about a decade, as taking the college of science and engineering to a new level for scientific research and hands-on, collaborative learning for students and faculty. It is expected to take students beyond traditional instruction and book-learning and provide real problems to solve and projects to work on with students from multiple disciplines.
The building, which has three stories above ground and one below, is stocked with the latest scientific equipment and provides ample space for students and faculty to work with regional businesses to solve problems and improve products and equipment.
“This building is really built around experiential learning,” said Daniel Gregory, interim dean of the College of Science & Engineering at St. Cloud State.
The 2011 Legislature approved the money for ISELF and construction started in October 2011.
The fresh approach to science instruction appeals to Mojekwu, who says it will provide an edge when students leave the university.
“Engineers and scientists in different fields that have to work in this building will help us experience this sort of internship situation that will prepare us for when we eventually graduate and get involved in actual engineering jobs,” Mojekwu said.
Students will find one classroom among the 100,000 square feet in ISELF. It’s a deliberate move to encourage innovative instruction and learning. It has two labs, with 9,000 square feet total, that will allow engineering students to work with chemistry students or physics students. The space is designed to encourage collaboration and idea sharing, Gregory said.
“We know when students get out in the real world they are going to work with a wide range of folks,” Gregory said. “The whole idea of experiential learning in ISELF is to start to mingle those disciplines.”
ISELF includes spaces for optics, robotics, thermal sciences, radiology and microbiology. A secure room was built to allow companies to work on projects with students and faculty that might be proprietary. It has a tutoring space for 65 students, a conference room and a coffee shop.
Among the new equipment moving into the building this month was an X-ray diffractometer. It arrived safely from Germany and earlier this month sat in its massive box in ISELF’s windowless basement. The X-ray diffractometer, which cost $350,000, is used to study light and diffraction in X-rays and allows researchers to study material without destroying it. The learning spaces are designed to be flexible and modular and throw out some of the traditional ways, said Kevin Haglin, a co-chairman of the chemistry and physics department.
“The traditional model of a white board at the front of the room where students come and listen is set aside in this building. It is intended to be not only experiential, it is an attempt to make opportunities for multi-disciplines to work together in single spaces,” Haglin said.
Haglin, who served on a committee that helped plan the building’s use, said faculty are eager to get to work with students in the new spaces.
Faculty members will maintain their offices in existing buildings, but plans call for some to have office hours in the ISELF labs.
“We want not only the facilities to be excellent but the activity to match the facility and the expertise of the faculty coming to the spaces all matching the opportunity,” Haglin said.
Among the key goals of ISELF is to work with the community to solve problems. Administrators and faculty plan to make connections with businesses and industries that will use ISELF space with students. Companies must agree to work with students and faculty before they can use the space, Gregory said.
Semaphore Scientific, a Chanhassen-based laser radar company, has a project planned with students and faculty for ISELF when it opens.
Students will benefit from the collaborations, said Kristin Gulrad, an associate professor in biology.
“They get a chance to pick not only scientific techniques that are cutting edge but interpersonal relations — interaction with industry pros that they normally won’t get to interact with. And they will be able to gain all that experience before they take that next step,” Gulrad said.
Gulrad is also eager to see students work in the microbiology lab.
“The really nice thing about ISELF, we are going to have bigger space to work with those research projects,” Gulrad said.
Student Derek Worcester, who will graduate in December, said having access to what’s inside ISELF will be a great boost when seeking employment. He plans to seek work in electrical engineering when he finishes school.
“The work is supposed to be close to actual working industry. Just that will be a great thing on a resume. (I can say) ‘I’ve worked in an environment and used these tools. I used it in a setting in a workforce.’ I think that would be a great thing to take to an interview,” Worcester said.
Video tour - http://www.sctimes.com/videonetwork/2612496718001/Tour-of-the-new-ISELF-lab-at-SCSU
St. Cloud Times
August 18, 2012