When classes began in late August, Newman University President Noreen Carrocci walked into the brand-new Bishop Gerber Science Center.
A student held the door open for her.
“Welcome to paradise,” the student said.
The Bishop Gerber Science Center – a 52,400-square-foot facility housing chemistry, biology and physics – was dedicated Thursday evening. The dedication included a blessing from the Most Rev. Eugene Gerber, bishop emeritus of Wichita.
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University officials say the building and the newly renovated health care education areas in Eck Hall will benefit the Wichita area as students graduate with medical degrees or use their undergraduate degrees to pursue studies in and then enter fields like chemistry and nuclear physics.
“People don’t realize how we affect the medical community, but also the number of students we put into the business community,” said J.V. Johnston, vice president for university advancement. “The medical community will grow a little bit, I think it will, but the real growth is going to come in supporting companies in our city, the Kochs, the Cargills, the Cessnas, Learjets, those type companies. Those are who are going to benefit the most in my opinion.”
The new building and renovations cost about $24.5 million, money raised from individuals, foundations and corporations.
The Bishop Gerber Science Center includes five faculty and student research laboratories. There were no such laboratories in the Heimerman Science Center.
Johnston said that will allow the university to receive grants and do more research, opportunities that were previously limited.
About 600 to 700 students major in the sciences, health sciences or nursing, Johnston said. The university expects that number to grow because of the new space.
Vivian Hoang, president of the Student Government Association, said the previous science building was home for many science majors, even if it was old and worn down.
"Our science program has always been top notch, and now we have a building that has caught up to it," said Hoang, who is majoring in biology and pre-medicine. "I think of it as if we moved on from our little cabin and upgraded to a mansion. The Bishop Gerber Science Center is everything we expected and 10 times more, maybe 100 times. … It’s a marvel what this building has done for us and will do for us."
David Schubert, dean of arts and sciences and a chemistry professor, said students will have access to nearly “the entire arsenal of scientific instrumentation,” including a DNA resequencer.
This will have a lasting impact on people outside the university, he said.
“Our students go out and they become physicians, they become nurses, they become teachers and they really are thoroughly prepared and well committed to going out and serving society,” Schubert said.
Upgrades to Eck Hall include a nursing lab with two intensive care simulation suites, a nurse anesthesia task training room with two operating room simulation suites and a respiratory care classroom and lab, according to an article in Newman University Magazine.
The Bishop Gerber Science Center includes several socialization spaces where students can study, complete with whiteboards and large screens to plug in computers and iPads.
All undergraduates take one general education laboratory science course, meaning “every undergraduate will get to use the Bishop Gerber Science Center,” Carrocci said.
Carrocci said she wants people to visit the new building.
“See what leading edge looks like,” she said.