Spring 2010: Of Note
Courtesy Oxford College
Oxford Plans Ahead
New science and math building, Library and Academic commons come closer to reality
By Mary J. Loftus
Known for its sense of community, excellence in undergraduate education, and historic significance as Emory’s original campus, Oxford College has long carried a deep sense of its past. But the college’s primary focus is on its future, says Dean Stephen Bowen, and plans for two new buildings—a Science and Mathematics building and a Library and Academic Commons—are leading the way.
Pierce Hall, the two-story building that houses Oxford’s Division of Natural Science and Mathematics, was built in the 1960s, before the Nobel Prize was awarded for discovering the structure of DNA.
Since then, the student body has more than doubled, and the facilities are overcrowded and out of date.
Professor of Biology Eloise Carter says Oxford’s innovative science program is designed to engage students in laboratory experiences: designing independent investigations, using green chemistry techniques, extracting and analyzing DNA, and synthesizing biofuels.
They have repurposed every available space, converting an office to a small undergraduate research space and an attached greenhouse to a field laboratory. New facilities are urgently needed, says Carter, to support twenty-first-century science.
Zoe Hicks 63Ox, who is coleading the campaign for the new science building, is determined to see the vision become a reality. “We cannot afford to lose the opportunity to continue our legacy of training students who will go into the healing arts, who will work to find a cure for some of our most dreaded diseases, and who will find ways to make our lives and our world better.”
Oxford’s science teaching facilities are something of a paradox, says Bowen. “The original designs were parsimonious, and by contemporary standards the spaces are cramped and lack basic equipment,” he says. “Despite these limitations, Oxford’s science students are often at the top of the class when they receive their Emory baccalaureate degrees. Just think what our faculty will be able to accomplish with the new building.”
Courtesy Oxford College
Likewise, Oxford’s library is housed in a 1970s building that has been adapted in makeshift ways to support the needs of students toting laptops and using dual computer screen work stations for multitasking.
Thanks to a jump-start from an alumnus donor’s estate, as well as fund-raising by the college and alumni alike, these state-of-the-art projects are moving forward.
The Charles Edwin Suber Foundation, established by the estate of Charles Edwin Suber 42Ox, donated $3.35 million to Oxford last year. Bowen says the college will use $100,000 to establish a scholarship in Suber’s name, and the remaining $3.25 million is pledged to the building projects.
Carter led the team charged with developing the concept for the new science building and is currently completing the feasibility study with architects Einhorn, Yaffee, and Prescott, known for their design of undergraduate science facilities. The college has raised about $20.5 million, including the Suber gift, toward its $30 million goal.
The environmentally sustainable building, designed to be LEED-certified, will support the needs of undergraduate sciences including chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, geology, and mathematics. In addition to well-designed classrooms and labs with modern instrumentation and double the number of fume hoods, the new building will offer ample space for faculty and student collaborations.
“Everything about this building is going to be supportive of Oxford’s teaching mission,” Bowen says. “We have a real focus on students engaging in the scientific process so that they learn to think like scientists.”
Oxford’s library staff has been modernizing the existing library program for years, developing digital resources, teaching computer research skills, and creating a virtual presence on the web.
“We don’t just bring students in during orientation and give them a crash course on research methods,” says Librarian Kitty McNeill. “We work with faculty to fully integrate these methods into every course. Students leave here knowing how to critically evaluate information.”
The library serves an average of 750 students a day and its peak time is 10:00 p.m. And librarians no longer shush students. “You can talk and camp out. We even have vending machines. During finals, we’ll put out snacks, hot chocolate, and coffee,” McNeill says. “It’s a fun place to get together.”
Still, the need for a new space is great, she says, and the library team soon will be launching a proof-of-concept study and demonstration project on the first floor—a working model of the learning environment that will be at the heart of the new Library and Academic Commons. This renovated area will have teaching, research, and collaborative spaces with finishes, furniture, and equipment that will be used in the new building.
In the meantime, because of the transformation of the library into a digital commons and dynamic gathering spot, students who desire a more traditional study environment can go next door to Phi Gamma Hall, which has 24/7 swipe-card access for quiet reading and wireless Internet.
Hugh Tarbutton Jr. 84Ox, who is leading the drive for the new Library and Academic Commons, says the needs of students today are vastly different than during his time at the college. “Advances in technology and study habits need to be reflected in how we design our new library,” he says. “It’s all about progress— progress for the college, which affords progress for the students and faculty.”