The faces of both David Love and Albert Matlin light up with excitement at the mention of Oberlin's new Science Center. Love, the associate vice president of sponsored programs, is also serving as the project executive. Matlin is currently the chair of the chemistry department, and along with Love helped to make the idea of a drastically updated Kettering into a reality.
Although the preparation for the overhaul of North campus began during fall break when fences were erected around much of North Quad, the official groundbreaking ceremony for the center will be held this weekend. This ceremony will coincide with this weekend's kickoff of the Capital Campaign. Part of the money raised by that campaign will fund the center's construction (see related story on page 1).
The Science Center will cost roughly $56 million. Originally, Matlin hoped the figure would be closer to $35 million, but soon realized the danger of assuming a huge financial project without adequately meeting the College's needs. "If we're going to do something like this, we want to be sure we do it right."
Oberlin's science committee plans to create a much larger and more functional Kettering, connecting it to the Wright Physics Building and creating an inviting and modern center for sciences, as well as a place for students to simply hang out.
Matlin expects the first part of the construction to conclude by May or June of 2001. This will include a northward extension of the Biology department, almost to the south face of Barrows, including a renovated Sperry Neuroscience center. The Science Center will then extend east, eventually intersecting with a renovated Wright Physics building. By June of 2002 the right half of Kettering will have been demolished, replaced by an expansive new bowl.
Both Matlin and Love stress that the necessity of upgrading Kettering lies in the changing model of science instruction, moving more toward hands-on learning. Both agree that Kettering reflects a less developed era of science. Built 35 years ago, Kettering has reached the point of limiting Oberlin's science curriculum.
Matlin stressed that Kettering lacks sufficient exhaust and fume hoods, posing important safety issues. He also emphasized the increased level of student-faculty research and the need for increased lab space for all students. Both Love and Matlin pointed to the expected retirement of a number of science professors - opening a significant amount of positions.
Love said, "In order to attract the best faculty, we need equipment to allow them to continue their research. Still, the lack of research space for students is the biggest current problem."
Love recognizes Kettering's ominous aura to non-science students. "Kettering and Sperry are like a science fortress. No one goes in there if they don't have to. We want to design a building that's not just a science building, but an Oberlin College building used for science."
Every student will have their own hood space in labs, and the architects hope to create flexible classrooms, allowing for the harmony of lecture, lab and computer work within a single room.
"The lecture rooms we have now are horrible - they're caves!", Matlin said adamantly. "The new Center will have modern lecture halls with proper lighting and electronic media...they'll be smart classrooms."
More subtle improvements will include an improved air handling system that will regulate the air supply and allow it to turn over more often. Also, acoustics engineers have been included in the project to ensure clarity of sound throughout the classroom.
Although both Matlin and Love deny the Science Center will be constructed in order to attract more students, each concede with a smile that College enrollment tends to increase following the creation of science centers.
"Oberlin has a rich history in science education and historically has been a leader in the sciences," said Love. "In order to maintain that tradition, we need to have facilities that attract the really good science students." Matlin hopes the Center will send a message not only to perspective students, but to non-science students as well. "We want to influence all Oberlin students to take science courses."
Love stressed the maintenance of science as integral to a healthy liberal arts curriculum. "Without doing so we risk the intellectual diversity of the student body, and that's one of the most rewarding things about Oberlin," he said.
Both Matlin and Love clearly expressed that unifying North and South campus constitutes another goal of the Science Center. "As it is, the 'wall of Kettering' demarcates North from South campus." He hopes that the students will treat the large bowl created by the demolition of the eastern half of Kettering as an extension of Wilder bowl. Love said that the lack of harmony between North and South campus was something the committee considered and a problem they presented to the architects.
Matlin asserted that the same lack of social unity between North and South campus exists between the Kettering and Rice faculty. He hopes that the new Science Center will allow rooms attractive enough to host faculty meetings, and work to break the divide between faculty as well as students.
"I'm proud of Oberlin for putting up so much money to show we're committed to top rate science," Matlin said.
Love stresses that Oberlin's endowment of such a large amount of money into science does not translate into it assuming a higher level of importance than other disciplines. "Science simply needs cutting-edge facilities to function properly," he said. "Still, it's going to make Oberlin College an extremely desirable place to come."
Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 128, Number 8, November 5, 1999
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