For biology students at Elmhurst, Fall Term 2015 brought a welcome addition: two brand-new laboratory spaces and a new prep room.
“Our old labs were vintage 1966, so it was definitely time for an upgrade,” says Paul Arriola, professor of biology. “We took the old anatomy and botany room down to the brick and started over.”
The new labs are bright and inviting, with modular stations that encourage teamwork and collaboration. Designed as flexible-use spaces, the labs will enable faculty to expand their teaching into different kinds of biology.
“The lab benches are set up so that it’s easier to communicate, the microscopes are more accessible, the lighting is brighter, and it’s all new and shiny,” said Brooke Matz ’16, a biology major with a minor in chemistry who serves as a teaching assistant for the Department of Biology. “Overall, the learning environment has drastically improved.”
The new labs are also designed to support a new way of teaching.
“In the past, biology lessons were based on textbook experiments where the professor already knows the results,” notes Arriola. “Today, we practice discovery-based science in which no one knows what the outcome will be. It’s a much more problem-based approach, and the new labs were built with that model in mind.”
For example, both labs are “smart” classrooms, with an integrated technology package that allows students to tap into a local intranet and project their results on the big screen so the whole class can look at the data together.
“Being able to share results so easily teaches students to do science in teams and to analyze and integrate data in real time,” Arriola says. “It helps us promote an active learning style.”
The renovation also carved out a dedicated prep space for biology classes for the first time. Now, a lab coordinator can prepare lab materials outside the classroom, allowing faculty to focus on instruction.
Funding for the renovations came from a $4.8 million grant from the State of Illinois, which the College received in several stages starting in 2010. The grant also supported the 2014 renovation of Elmhurst’s physics labs, the biology rooftop greenhouse, and the construction of the Elmhurst College Simulation Center at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital.
“The new labs have sparked a lot of energy and enthusiasm among our students,” says Arriloa. “The sciences at Elmhurst are strong and getting stronger, and this project is an affirmation of that.”