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Superstar building based on students

  • Article by: Jenna Ross
  • Star Tribune
  • August 24, 2010 - 10:59 PM

The building's windows reach toward the Mississippi River, while the bricks on its east side nod to the architecture of its neighbors. But the University of Minnesota's newest building has its sights set on students.

Thus the mouthful of a name: the Science Teaching and Student Services building.

Its five stories and 115,000 square feet house a dozen classrooms, two high-tech lecture halls and a bevy of services -- including financial aid, career services and registration. Not one faculty office.

Space was tight, so "the designers wanted to make sure it was maximized for student services," said Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.

The building, dedicated Tuesday, replaces the often-maligned Science Classroom Building -- "a decrepit old structure that had sat here for decades," as McMaster put it.

In it, students sat in the standard, slanted lecture halls while professors lectured at the bottom, scratching blackboards with chalk.

Quite the throwback, comparatively.

The two 236-student lecture halls in the Science Teaching and Student Services building have a high-tech feel and are set up to handle the fire, smoke and fumes of chemistry experiments performed up front.

In 10 "active learning classrooms," students sit in "pods" at tables of nine and engage with the microphone-wearing professor through laptops, a dozen flat-screen televisions and two projector screens.

The setup is meant to facilitate group work.

Prof. Robin Wright, associate dean of the College of Biological Sciences, has been using a similar pilot classroom to teach biology. Demonstrating the new classrooms Tuesday, she said the learning style challenges and rewards students: "You're held accountable every single day."

The professors are, too.

"I really credit this room to making me a better teacher," she said.

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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