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Collaboration builds: Marian University opens new science center

Collaboration builds: Marian University opens new science center Banner Image

FOND DU LAC – After one year of construction, Marian University’s more than 50-year-old science building has been transformed into the open, student-focused Dr. Richard and Leslie Ridenour Science Center.

An updated building had been on the university’s list of priorities for years, said Kate Candee, vice president of student engagement. According to the case statement for the center, a new facility was necessary to accommodate growth in Marian’s popular STEM programs, such as forensic science, biology, chemistry and math, as well as to match the requirements of a “21st century curriculum delivery that relies less on a standard ‘lecture hall’ model.”

With the need there, Marian’s first capital campaign in more than 15 years began: the $13 million Marian Campaign. Reaching out to donors, after over two years, “more than 90 percent of the funding … came from local and private donors,” said Marian University President Dr. Andrew Manion.

The building is named after the university’s 11th president, Dr. Richard “Dick” Ridenour and its first lady, Leslie. The reason for the namesake? The retired U.S. Navy Medical Corp. rear admiral who commanded the National Naval Center in Bethesda and his wife “brought a renewed sense of pride and growth to the campus” when he served from 1997 to 2006, said Stacey Akey, vice president of advancement for Marian University. In his time, the university saw the building of the Stayer Center, Todd Wehr Alumni Center, the beginning of the Working Families Grant and more than $1 million in sales at the campus store. He was “notorious” for handing out Marian wear to those he met, while frequently wearing it himself, Akey said. 

“We fell in love with its people, the people of Fond du Lac, its mission and its students,” Ridenour said. “A lot of Marian students are first-generation Marian students, rural backgrounds like my family, and it’s a very unselfish warm, welcoming place.”

The former Ben Sadoff Science Hall wouldn’t be torn down, but instead reinvented, with its footprint expanded by more than 50 percent. Working with Eppstein Uhen Architects, the university had multiple goals for its design: creating a new center that complemented the old building attached, as well as the Stayer Center near it, said Manion, and one that would have the greatest impact on students and be a place where they would like to be, both for class and studying.

A focus on students and faculty

Candee said student and staff input was considered to improve the learning environment in a way that would “attract and retain students.” Student Senate President Meghan Schwobe remembers the excitement in the student body, from students in the midst of their education, as well as those just beginning it. A double major in middle secondary education and biology, with a chemistry minor, Schwobe felt it herself.

At multiple times throughout the process, Schwobe said students were invited to share their opinion on everything from possible floor plans to furnishings.

“It was great having our voices heard on a project that impacts students so much,” she said. “It really felt like it was a student-centered project.”

Having struggled to teach in an “outdated teaching environment,” Candee said, faculty were invited to participate in the design process for the labs and classrooms.

Assistant Professors Jason Kowalksi and Lalitha Ramamoorthy took part in the design of the classrooms to fit the needs of the courses. Previously three to four students would have to share a workspace fume hood in the organic science classroom, now one to two can, with six hoods available; at full capacity, 24 students can use the hoods safely.

Ramamoorthy’s room is designed for molecular biology, with highly purified water pumped into the lab stations. Each station has multiple outlets, which, when all the instruments are being used, allow the stations to be self-sufficient. With similarities in molecular and microbiology, a prep room is shared between them, housing the equipment needed for all students to utilize the necessary tools.

Construction gives way to new facility

The project broke ground in October 2017, and construction by C.D. Smith took place over the year. During the process, the building couldn't hold classes in the spring semester, but at the start of the fall semester, it was open. The “Sputnik-era” science building is now a “state-of-the-art learning facility,” Manion said.

The expansion added three research labs, nine laboratories “with adjacent prep spaces, new interactive learning spaces and valuable ‘third spaces’ dedicated to student interaction, innovation and engagement with one another and with faculty,” Akey said.

Classrooms are equipped with education technology – such as SMART boards – and with faculty offices inside the buildings, students and professors can more easily interact. For those who want to study, they can sit on chairs or couches, and in study rooms and use on-the-wall dry erase boards. Throughout the building, the colors of blue, green and gray carry through. The original exterior building now stands as supports within. On the exterior, the old and new buildings have been blended together, matching those on campus. Students and faculty have also been treated to the additions of central air, accessible outlets and wide-reaching Wifi.

The response to the center from students, faculty and staff has been positive. While professors are adjusting to the more open classrooms, Manion said the facility’s quality in everything from design to technology “has everyone wanting to teach in there.”

Already, Ramamoorthy said students who typically did their senior projects through internet research are opting to utilize the labs set up specifically for it, allowing them to gain more experience in practical applications.

Schowbe said the building brings a “modern feel,” while increasing the sense of community. Rather than leaving the building to do schoolwork or spend time between classes, students can stay there and ask their professors questions if needed. It increases opportunities for students, she said, which she believes will draw more to the campus.

Adding to the fabric of the city

On Friday, donors and those connected to the center’s development were invited to a private dedication, featuring speeches and blessings from Manion, Sr. Jean Steffes, Sr. Edie Crews, the Very Reverend Bishop James T. Schuerman, Tim Michels and the Ridenours. Leslie Ridenour recounted her favorite moments at the university, including graduations and the nursing pinning ceremony, while Richard touched on what the building and university meant to them.

“Nobody needs a building named after them, but it’s nice. We never could’ve imagined or expected it and we are humbled that so many of you would care about this place and perhaps about us a little to make this happen,” he said. "We need you to understand that our lives, we cannot imagine looking back without having our great experience at Marian.”

Taking self-guided tours, guests got to see the benefits of the new building. Leslie  Ridenour's sister Cynthia Ford, and her husband, great-grandson to Henry Ford, Edsel Ford II, donated to the center and were impressed with the results of construction.

“We’re just thinking it’s friendly … it’s happy. I love it. I think it’s fabulous,” Cynthia Ford said.  

Not only is the center a benefit to the school, said Manion, but to Fond du Lac as a whole. The additional science space will serve the community as it will be utilized for the Upward Bound: Math and Science program, which educates “potential first-generation college students and/or low-income high school students in relation to graduation from high school, transition to college, and the pursuit of post-secondary degrees in mathematics and science,” according to Marian’s website.

The public is invited to visit the center from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday during the university’s homecoming.

“My colleagues and I at Marian are incredibly grateful to the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes and the entire Fond du Lac community for their support of this endeavor,” Manion said. “We are truly blessed to live in a community that is so generous and supportive of our mission."

Sarah Razner
Fond du Lac Reporter

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