Projects will include a new science building
Utica College recently received the largest bequest in its history – a $2.3 million gift from the Lotis B. Howland trust fund.
That donation will enable the college to upgrade its science department with the addition of a new building. The first check from the trust came to UC in June and the college was able to renovate the technology in more than 40 classrooms this summer. President Laura Casamento has also pledged $150,000 to fund the re-purposing of the Newman Center into an intercultural center for student organizations. Some of the funds will support smaller projects and the remainder will be placed into the college’s endowment.
Vice President of Advancement George Nehme expressed his excitement about the bequest.
“It is a tremendous gift to the college because it came to us unrestricted,” he said.
Nehme’s department is responsible for raising funds for UC.
“It’s given the president the opportunity to redirect the resources to areas of the college that directly affect the students and faculty that we didn’t have the budget for previously,” he said. “That is rare for any college to receive a substantial request that doesn’t include restrictions and this gave the president the latitude to address critical needs.”
UC did not know Ms. Howland and she was not an alum, according to Nehme.
“Her original attorney was an alumnus, class of ‘54,” he said. “We think he had some influence in helping her think about what organizations she could help.”
However, UC became the largest beneficiary in Howland’s estate.
“It came to us as a surprise,” Nehme said. “Our only regret is that we did not know this wonderful lady who gave so much of her estate to Utica College.”
Casamento also welcomed the gift.
“It’s not every day that we receive multi-million dollar bequests,” she said. “It was impactful to use the money in a variety of ways.”
Casamento said the projects that will be funded have been on the college’s “radar” but until now have been on hold due to a lack of funding. One of the projects that will not be addressed with the funds is more parking spaces.
“We have been able to increase the number of parking spaces on campus,” Casamento said. “With the money we are installing technology in the classrooms and things that we thought would have the greatest impact that I’m not sure that more parking would have.”
Casamento emphasized the benefits students will experience from the projects.
“What I want most is for students to know that we are able this summer to totally revamp the technology in 42 of our classrooms, which has an impact on the teaching and learning environment,” she said. “We were able to fund the complete design of the Gordon Science Center and the plan is to break ground this summer.”
Casamento said the improvements also funded the installation of lighting along the back walkway between the dorms to academic buildings.
Approximately $800,000 has been earmarked for the expansion of the Gordon Science Center that is slated to complete in the fall of 2021. The total amount of the project will be $14 million.
“It makes student and faculty research a lot easier when they are in these newly outfitted labs,” said Larry Aaronson, interim dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.
The plans for the science building are still in the development stage. It will be connected to either Gordon, Romano or both, on the lawn by the Gordon Science Center. It will also house 20 to 30 new faculty offices.
“The programs that are going to be represented in the building are still being finalized,” Aaronson said. “We are still trying to determine which labs fit in the new building.”
He said the construction will not interfere with classes until the project is finished.
“There may also be a little inconvenience as the building goes on but it really shouldn’t impact the UC community because the new building is going to be out in this lawn behind Gordon,” he said. “If all goes well, we’re hoping for a fall 2021 opening.”
As interim dean of Arts and Sciences, Aaronson represented the science programs in the planning process, along with Sharon Wise, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.
“As the leader of the science department and faculty, I was involved to make sure people’s needs and desires were expressed and make sure that the people using these labs were given the best they could get,” he said.
A former UC president planned to build a new science building but the downturn of the economy put a hold on the project proposal.
“The board of trustees has been very determined that we were going to build a new science building,” Aaronson said. “It is a very important recruiting tool to have nice new labs.”
UC has updated a few labs during the past decade, including a chemical research lab and a synthesis lab. However, most of the labs and classrooms in the Gordon Science Center were built in the early years of the college. The new science building is exciting for students because they described many of the current labs as “outdated.”
“I think the overall lab looks like its a little bit older,” said Louden Johnson, freshman in the physical therapy major, referring to a chemistry lab in the science center. “It seems like we’ve had everything that we’ve ever needed. But I think there’s definitely room for improvement.”
Michelle Boucher, a chemistry professor, pointed out an analytical data lab in GSC and said the issues in that lab range from fire hazards to insufficient space to poor visibility for students working at labs in the back behind high counters to narrow aisles that are not handicap-accessible. The lab only has one door.
“Our students deserve better than jumping out the window to escape a fire,” she said.
Most of the labs currently in Gordon are 60 years old. Boucher said she looks forward to teaching in new labs that will create a more effective learning environment.
“But since it was built in the 1950’s, this building has served us well,” she said. “The time has come to modernize it so we can give our students the labs they deserve.”
Boucher said that the college boasts about the analytical data lab as a selling point because few other colleges offer the course.
“It is all very focused on precision and accuracy,” Boucher said. “It is a course that develops skills that gets our students jobs. You’re learning it [the skills] in the most antiquated lab on campus.”
Alyssa Kupras, senior in the biochemistry major, looks forward to the day when she will not have to push her desk out of the room to access the equipment in the analytical data lab.
“Every analytical lab, we take every single one of the desks out after we do pre-lab, then we have to push them out into the hallway because if there was a chemical spill we’d have to exit as quickly as possible,” she said. “If acid was spilled, you’d have to shower but without moving the desks out of the room you can’t access the shower. It’s not fun.”
Kupras is eager to see the labs in the new building.
“Everyone is really excited about it,” she said.
The coming improvements of the new science building, center for student organizations, cutting-edge technology in the classrooms, and others are exciting to students and staff alike.
“This is really a big deal for the college,” Nehme said. “We wish they would happen more often but when they do it’s a cause for celebration.”