The reimagined Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center (SMC) is wowing people with its attractive look and plentiful supply of collaborative and individual study spaces.

The first phase of the five-phase SMC renovation focused on the core of the building and concluded at the end of 2019. Knox students, faculty, and staff began working and studying in the new spaces when the winter term began in January 2020. 

Junior Kelly Feng has been using the new spaces in SMC to attend classes, study on her own, and collaborate with other students who are in study groups for her physics and philosophy classes. "I really appreciate the flexibility of where you can study and how you can study," she said. One of her favorite features is the large number of power outlets. "It's very convenient for me because my laptop and phone are almost always dying because I'm always on them to do homework and to do research."

Senior Aaron Kapinos added that the renovation of A-core “provides students with more places to do homework and meet with other students besides Seymour Library. As a student who likes to find quiet nooks to do homework, I think these new study areas will be very appealing to other students.” 

The renovation created an expanded atrium that brings more natural light into the building and offers seating and study areas for students and visitors. The atrium "provides a focal point when you come into the building that it didn't have before, and it's light and airy," said Stuart Allison, Watson Bartlett Professor of Biology and Conservation.

The atrium also serves as home to SMC’s biggest, newest occupant, generally known as “the whale.” Students and faculty from multiple academic departments worked together for months to reconstruct and preserve the 55-foot fin whale skeleton. 

Another new aspect of the building is the Amott Science Commons, situated in an area previously occupied by two amphitheatre-style lecture halls. Named in honor of President Teresa Amott, the commons houses reference materials and offers a full range of technology-rich study areas, providing students with places to work together in groups or study alone.

On the second floor of SMC’s core, six modern classrooms now occupy the space that formerly housed the science library. The largest of the classrooms includes a motorized wall that can be raised to create a single room for up to 96 students or lowered to create two rooms each with a capacity of 48 students. Four smaller classrooms accommodate classes of 24 to 36 students. The classrooms are equipped with high-tech video displays, walls lined with a variety of writing surfaces, and tables and chairs that can be rearranged easily so students can work in groups.

Rothwell C. Stephens Distinguished Service Chair in Mathematics Kevin Hastings taught a 2020 winter term course in one of the new second-floor classrooms. “The seating and table arrangement is well done, comfortable for the students, acoustically great, and the fact that there are electrical outlets in the floor for devices is a real benefit,” Hastings said. He also noted that the upstairs is “now connected in a full circle rather than the previous H shape. This allows much freer travel around the building, and for both faculty and students it will encourage collegiality and collaboration.”

The changes in SMC reflect the way students learn and practice science in the 21st century: Courses are more discussion-based and hands on, assignments require more teamwork and creativity, and independent research has become a critical component of the curriculum. Students and faculty often cross boundaries between academic disciplines -- for instance, practicing science that combines psychology and biochemistry, or physics and biology.

Overall, the reimagined SMC is “spectacular,” said Frank McAndrew, Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology, who taught two winter term classes in one of the redesigned second-floor classrooms.

“Before the renovation, SMC was conspicuously missing anything that might have even remotely been described as a ‘WOW’ factor,” said McAndrew. “Now, the spacious atrium, learning commons, and whale skeleton provide a ‘wow’ with a capital ‘W’ as soon as you walk in the front door.”

Fundraising is ongoing for the Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center’s renovation, including the newly reopened A-core. Please help transform SMC into a space that reflects the ambitions of the people who work and study there, and that attracts the brightest and boldest thinkers to campus. To make a gift, call the Office of Advancement at 888-566-9265, email gifts@knox.edu, or go online to knox.edu/givenow.