Knox College students and faculty are praising the reimagined Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center (SMC) for its eye-catching 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. Students and faculty began using the new spaces when the winter term began in January 2020.
“I think the renovation of A-core provides students with more places to do homework and meet with other students besides Seymour Library,” said Senior Aaron Kapinos. “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.”
An expanded atrium brings more natural light into the building and offers seating and study areas for students and visitors. The new Amott Science Commons, which is situated in an area previously occupied by two amphitheatre-style lecture halls, 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.
“Having had a class in one of the windowless and dimly lit classrooms that previously made up the first floor, the openness and brightness of the new A-core is much more inviting,” Kapinos said.
In the core of SMC's second floor, six modern classrooms now occupy the space that previously housed the science library. The largest of the classrooms includes a motorized wall that, depending on whether it’s raised or lowered, can create a single room for up to 96 students or two classrooms each with a capacity of 48 students. Four smaller classrooms are designed for classes of 24 to 36 students. Classrooms feature 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.
And then there’s the whale. Or, to be more precise, a 55-foot fin whale skeleton. Students and faculty from multiple academic departments worked together for months to reconstruct and preserve the skeleton, now on permanent display in the building’s renovated core.
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 are often crossing boundaries between academic disciplines—for instance, practicing science that combines psychology and biochemistry, or physics and biology.
Frank McAndrew, Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology, is teaching two classes this winter term in one of the redesigned classrooms on the second floor.
“It is wonderful to have a state-of-the-art classroom, but I will confess that I have not yet figured out how to take advantage of all of the bells and whistles that it has to offer,” said McAndrew.
Overall, the reimagined SMC is “spectacular,” he added.
“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.”