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MSU officially unveils its new STEM Teaching and Learning Facility

Michigan State University STEM Teaching and Learning Facility

Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., and other university leaders officially introduced the new STEM Teaching and Learning Facility on the East Lansing campus to the community with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 10, 2021.

Mark Largent:

Welcome. My name is Mark Largent. I'm the associate provost and dean for undergraduate education at Michigan State University. And it is my pleasure to be your host today. I want to start by thanking the Spartan Jazz Quintet for their talent and their time and their contribution to this really wonderful ceremony today.

Mark Largent.jpeg
Mark Largent

I am so happy to be here. I have to be honest with you. This is a very joyful time as we restart a school year. I am one of those people who started school when I was six and I've never stopped starting school every fall. And to have fallen out of that rhythm last year and the loss of that pattern I had really depended on and the people who I was close to was tremendously difficult. And I know that so many of you here are that way as well. And so many of you are so energized by this building and these people and our students. And so I'm just joyful to be here. So thank you for joining me for this. I think the joy we have in being here emphasizes for us the sense of place and what importance place holds for us, together, here, now, celebrating this new place.

As a historian, I cannot help but see architecture as emblematic of a very particular time and place in which a building was created. Those buildings create spaces that reflect the intentions of the time in which they were built. Those spaces, then, in the years and years that follow, both empower and constrain what happens in those spaces. We call this architectural determinism and what it means is spaces allow for certain things, but not all things. Fifty some years ago, we built the last one of these kinds of buildings, that new classroom building, right on the other side of this, Wells Hall. And much has changed in 50 years. Who we teach, how we teach, what we teach, and who teaches even has changed in that last half century. And so a building that we build now must reflect who we are now and who we want to be next, both, and this building most certainly does that.

Our dedicated world-class faculty have been formulating and reformulating answers the questions of what we should teach and how we should teach it. And this building opens the doors to an unimaginably wide landscape of opportunity to pursue those answers, but also for opportunity for our students themselves. And ultimately, that's why we're here, is for our students and their opportunity. This building is designed for both today and tomorrow's science education needs. It is incredibly flexible. Architectural determinism in this space has been constrained to limits we've never seen before in a classroom building on this campus, perhaps anywhere, because this is probably the best science education building on the planet. It is flexible. It is welcoming. It is open. And if you have not been inside of it yet, I'm excited for you to go in because you will leave with a sense of empowerment and excitement that our students have told us they feel when they walk in those doors.

So, it is my pleasure now to introduce someone who has pursued answers to some of medicine's most urgent problems throughout his entire professional life, an infectious disease expert, a researcher, patent holder, former technology transfer executive. Our first speaker is a leader who knows the value of collaborative research and multi-disciplinary pedagogy firsthand. It's also a person who has done wonders over the last year and a half helping lead us through a time none of us could have imagined. So I want to thank and introduce MSU president Samuel L Stanley.

Samuel L Stanley:

Well, thank you, associate provost Largent, or I should say, thank you, Mark, for that extraordinarily kind introduction. And I almost am ready to throw away my comments because I think Mark summarized everything I'm going to say in one sentence, which is, the best science education building in the world at Michigan State University. Is there really anything else to add to that statement? I'm not sure there is, but you know what I'm going to anyway. So we'll just move ahead. So I wanted to begin by acknowledging the state of Michigan and particularly the legislature for its partnership in helping to fund this facility. It was the first time in nearly 50 years. I'm going to say this again, it's the first time in nearly 50 years that MSU added exclusive classroom space with state funding. So thank you for the vision of those who helped make this possible. Thank you.

President Stanley.jpg
Derrick L. Turner
Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., MSU President

This is an important day for Michigan State University and all of our students. This impressive facility represents the commitment of MSU and the state of Michigan to prepare our students to thrive in a dynamic and complex world. Understanding scientific principles, mathematical concepts, physical and biological processes is increasingly important for many reasons. We know that jobs requiring STEM knowledge are the fastest growing in the country. And among the most secure. STEM occupations will grow by more than twice the rate of non-STEM jobs in this decade. And STEM occupations, on average, pay about twice as much. We also know that on the whole, STEM occupations do not, and the person who are among them, represent the diversity of our society. Since data indicate that women make up nearly half of the workforce, but a little more than a quarter of STEM workers today. Black and Hispanic participation in STEM occupations also trails their representation in the workforce.

Because of its importance, supporting diversity in STEM is a priority for the nation, as well as Michigan State University. More broadly, STEM skills and qualifications are valuable for everyone. An NSF, National Science Foundation, report concluded last year that whether or not they become scientists or engineers, all Americans should have access, opportunity, encouragement, and tools to participate in the innovation economy and to succeed amid technological progress and change. Understanding STEM principles is increasingly necessary to assess information, weigh choices, and even manage your health. And it's important for also being a contributing member of society. Science-based issues confront the world today with some of its greatest challenges, medical, environmental, and technological. Society needs citizens who are able to understand those issues, make informed choices and lead our communities. This new facility is a 21st century response, the newest evolution of MSU's land grant commitment to connect people with such vital knowledge.

It represents our innovative spirit and transformative mission. We see these qualities in the facility's creative design and repurposing of the power plant. And we see these qualities inside where learning spaces will accommodate some 7,000 students every week. Among other programs, this facility will host introductory STEM courses, including in biological sciences, chemistry, computer science, engineering, and physics. We work with faculty members and others to consider how our curriculum is delivered and how spaces are used, to design a building based on learning and the student experience. There are about 1,200 seats and common areas and gathering spaces to facilitate collaboration. We know those kinds of productive collisions are absolutely central to learning. And this building helps make them possible. The arts features will also connect the STEM disciplines to imagination and creativity, critical forces as we go forward. The innovation represented by this building extended to its construction as well.

Parts of the new wings were constructed with sustainable cross-laminated timber for example. It's the first time this mass timber has been used for a laboratory and academic building in this country. Features such as that help integrate this facility into MSU sustainability goals. So in sum, the teaching and learning facility, our STEM Teaching and Learning Facility, connects key MSU values to how we support excellence and student success. It links the university's past to its future while prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion. I'm very pleased that all of you can join us today for this ribbon cutting as we celebrate the opening of our STEM building, and there'll be an opportunity to tour the building when this program begins. Thank you again so much for coming and thank you for all of you who helped make this day possible. Thank you.

Mark Largent:

Thank you, President Stanley. During the years that this building has been in development, the MSU Board of Trustees has been an integral part of supporting the process, guiding it, and providing both material and political support that we need to carry out this work. So it's now my honor to introduce a Lansing area luminary, who has spent a lifetime in public service, board of trustees chair, Dianne Byrum.

Dianne Byrum:

Thank you, Mark. What a great day for a ribbon cutting. It's wonderful to be able to represent the Board of Trustees at the grand opening of the STEM Teaching and Learning Facility. As President Stanley mentioned, the state of Michigan has been a valued partner in this project. The allocation of nearly $30 million in capital outlay funding was instrumental in the construction of this innovative teaching and learning space. When you invest in higher education, you are contributing to student success and investing in our future. I applaud the Michigan legislature for recognizing the value of the STEM Teaching and Learning Facility and what it will mean to MSU and our state. This project provided us a unique opportunity to work with the DNR. One of the experiences of the building's design is the use of cross laminated timber also known as mass timber. It was used for the load bearing structure, framing, floors, and ceiling.

Dianne Byrum and Samuel Stanley photo
Scott Pohl
Dianne Byrum with President Stanley

Among other benefits, this mass timber promotes forest health and a reduction in carbon emissions. I had the privilege of being here in August, 2018 for the groundbreaking. So it's an honor to stand here today, three years later, reflecting on the magnitude of changes and advancements of the project on campus. And more importantly, the thousands of students who will benefit from the experience that this building will support. The adaptive and innovative spaces will help our faculty provide even more exceptional and personalized learning that will help prepare our students to succeed and lead. I cannot wait to see how it will be used, but even more, I can't wait to see how it will empower our students to be world changers. Thank you.

Mark Largent:

Thank you, Chair Byrum.Our next speaker knows a few things about opening doors for millions of people for so many years now. She knows about building coalitions and getting things done. She knows that Michigan's future relies on our ability to build and to innovate. It is now my pleasure to introduce the honorable Debbie Stabenow, US Senator from Michigan.

Debbie Stabenow:

Okay. First, Go Green!


Go White!

Debbie Stabenow:

Okay. Now I know where I am. So it is really exciting for me to be here. I have to say. First of all, we all know Michigan State's the premier land grant university in the country.

One of the world's top research institutions, right Mr. President? There's no question about that. And now home to this impressive new building that's going to create opportunities, first and foremost, for thousands of students. I've just met a few of them here today and told them we're expecting great things. And then also opportunities that go beyond that, I think, in terms of where we need to go in the world. This is the first mass timber building in our state. It's the first mass timber building, therefore it's the tallest mass building. At some point, there will be one taller, but I keep telling everyone, we have the tallest building in the state, which we do, and it is about cross laminated timber, which is about the economy. It's about jobs. It's about addressing the climate crisis. And I have to tell you personally, for me, this has really been an area of focus for me as chair of the Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

Debbie Stabenow

Back in 2014, we put into the five-year farm bill timber innovation act research. We're going to do research on cross-laminated timber in a more aggressive way, how we could use timber in building buildings and other opportunities. And then in the 2018 bill, we expanded it with full funding. And when I look at the opportunities that we have to address the climate crisis, which is right in front of our face, the wildfires, the droughts, the floods, everything that is happening for us, how we use wood and how we manage forests in a sustainable way is very much a part of how we move forward. And it's an intimate part of what I'm working on right now in the Senate, frankly. And what I'm also excited about is this as an economic opportunity for us in Michigan. We have a lot of paper mills around Michigan, and we all know we're not using paper much anymore.

But we are moving towards cross laminated timber as a building material and many of our folks in areas that desperately need jobs, as we retool, are part of that future, to be able to get there. Now, I was up at Michigan Tech bragging with them about Michigan State. I'm not sure that's good politics, but anyway, they are, I know, partnering with you and they're doing a ton of research as well and are very excited from the Upper Peninsula standpoint of what this means. So I see this as something that fundamentally is about students and it's about opportunity and innovation. It is also about how we move forward in a future that is more sustainable. And that Michigan State really is at the forefront of this and helping us to solve a whole range of problems we need to solve. Let me finally say I've had the opportunity twice now to be in the building, if you have not, it is so cool.

I look forward to going back. When we talk about flexibility, the workstations literally move around the room. And so I've never seen so much flexibility on what can be done. And I was very proud to be able to brag about this and bring in the United States Secretary of Agriculture about a month ago, to be able to see the building and meet with many of our farm leaders, again, to talk about our role in agriculture and forestry being part of the solution as it relates to the climate crisis. So let me close with a quote from Gifford Pinchot, the very first Chief of the United States Forest Service. Once he said, "The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities, only if we make ourselves responsible for that future." As usual, Michigan state is in the front of the line being responsible for our future. And I'm so excited to see what comes next. Congratulations.

Mark Largent:

Thank you very much, Senator Stabenow for your words and your work and your support of our work. Such a mammoth undertaking could not be possible without the support of people who believe in the future of STEM in Michigan at every level. It's now my pleasure to introduce another of those supporters, Senator Curtis Hertel, an MSU alum. The senator is the perfect representative for East Lansing and MSU. His wide ranging experience includes serving as the minority vice chair on the appropriations committee, a member of the appropriation subcommittee on universities and community colleges, and he serves on the capital outlay committee. Welcome Senator Hertel. Thank you for joining us.

Curtis Hertel:

It's a pleasure to be here with Senator Stabenow. It's always nice to be after Senator Stabenow. That's always a difficult spot to be in. She is a real Senator. I'm a minor league Senator. President Stanley, Chairman Byrum, and the Board of Trustees, honored guests, the Spartan community. It's nice to be part of this momentous occasion. I also want to take a moment to recognize my former colleague in Darwin Booher.

David Olds
Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr., (D-East Lansing) debates Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) on how to fix Michigan’s roads. The public debate was organized by MIRS with Capitol with MIRS Editor Kyle Melinn moderating.

When you watch the cable news, oftentimes you see just the worst parts of politics. You see the anger, you see the name calling, but in reality, that's not all that's there. Darwin served on the opposite side of the aisle with me. He was always a consummate public servant. And you know, I was a freshman legislator when we got the funding for this project and I was a little loud sometimes. And Darwin didn't have to listen to me in his office over and over again, talking about this project. And he didn't have to make sure that this was part of the final deal. And I appreciate your willingness to work across the aisle and to get this done for the people in Michigan. Thank you, Darwin.

As a proud Spartan myself, it's always good to be back on campus, but I'm especially happy to share in the special occasion for MSU and its students that have been in the making for several years. I am very pleased to be part of this project and part of the funding structure. As a member of the joint capital outlay committee, and now as the minority vice chair for the Senate appropriations committee, we don't always get to see the fruits of our labor. Oftentimes we vote on something that's a very large number and we know it exists, but we don't actually get to see what it's actually doing in our community. And so to be here, to be part of this building and to see it as part of our campus means a lot to me.

It's always also inspiring to see the ingenuity of MSU's use of the space of this beautiful campus. So when you take a historic building that was formerly the power plant that powered this campus, and now it'll be a 40,000 square foot STEM building that will power, not only this campus, but our future and our nation's future. It is truly an honor to be part of it. Spartans will lead our state's workforce in science, technology, engineering, math, and computer science. Thank you again for letting us be part of this process and Go Green!


Go White!

Mark Largent:

Thank you, Senator Hertel. At the core of this exciting new venture is what we will do in the building. Educate. This exciting new venture is a commitment to our educators to help our students learn and thrive in the sciences and beyond. To help represent that and talk about some of it, I would like to introduce my colleague, Dr. Andrea Bierema. She is from the Center for Integrative Studies in general science and the Department of Integrative Biology. And she embodies the commitment that we have to undergraduate STEM education. Her award winning work at MSU includes teaching at the Kellogg Biological Station researching and putting into practice undergraduate biology education, and avian communication. Dr. Bierema.

Andrea Bierema:

Well, hi, everyone. I'd really like to say just how excited I am that we have this building and not just because of the beautiful building with a great theme, but because of how the rooms are actually created and what they can do. And so, as we've heard the beginning of the ceremony, we've learned a lot about teaching over these last 50 years. And with that then, part of that is thinking about how students can work in teams and how that can help with their learning and actually engage with material. So with my classes, this is what students do, they work in teams, but we're usually having to overcome the barriers of the classrooms we're in because they are made for students to simply sit there and watch me go on and on for an hour. And yeah, just hopefully they catch some of what I'm saying, but when they actually work together, it's so much better.

Andrea Bierema

And when we were in those lecture style rooms, they would have to be like maybe in a long line. And you just have to recognize that the person on this side is not going to have any idea what the person on this side is actually saying, but hey, let's hope this works. Or if they're actually sitting behind and in front of each other and just trying to make it work, overcome the barriers of the classroom. But now we have this building where room after room after room is actually designed for this kind of learning. And also on top of that. So it's just kind of, this might seem kind of simple, but having not only these tables with movable chairs, but actually having outlets at every one of them. I know that seems simple, but that's one of the things, that I just can't depend on students coming in with a charged laptop, whether their laptop doesn't hold a charge or it's dead by the time they come to my afternoon class,

It used to be that those students would have to sit on the floor by a wall at an outlet, but no more with this building, which is totally awesome. Another thing too, in some of these rooms, with the tables, they actually have monitors that come up from the tables with just a simple push of a button. Totally amazing. What's nice about this is with team learning, it's really helpful if you can actually have different people, have different roles, including someone to actually be the recorder. And now we can do this where they can plug in their laptop. Everyone in the team can actually see what's going on in real time. And rather than just trying to crowd around somebody's little, tiny laptop. So totally amazing. I'm totally excited. And thank you.

Mark Largent:

The bad news is every single seat in her classes is full, so none of you are getting in this semester. Registration is still open for spring. Thank you, Dr. Bierema. It is easy to see how the work of educators like you engage our students in really amazing ways. It's also easy to see it when we talked to the students themselves. Students. Students are the reason that we're here. This is our purpose. Everything else is intended to support that, one way or another. The reason for this magnificent new structure, the reason that I'm here, the reason that we carry on the work that we do is because of the investments that we make in the people who come here in order to develop their purposes and their passions. They are our portals into the future. When I'm in need of a dose of hope, all have to do is walk outside and find it.

Wandering this campus every day, I often stop to talk to the students who have decided to put their faith in us to give them that access to the future. And it reminds me that uncommon is not just part of our slogan. It really is who fills this campus, an uncommon energy, an uncommon optimism, and a really uncommon potential. You can feel it on this campus every day. So I want to thank the students who I've had the pleasure to be around for all of these years. One such student is Alyssa Fritz. She's a senior from Reese, Michigan. She's pursuing a bachelor of arts and communications with a concentration in communication science, analytics, and research methods, and a minor in communicative sciences and disorders. She's an active member of the campus community, where she works as a resident assistant and as a student office assistant in communication science, and disorders. She volunteers with the prevention, outreach, and engagement, and she serves as an undergraduate research ambassador. She is busy, but she's joining us today. Thank you, Alyssa.

Alyssa Fritz:

Interdisciplinary. Describing the relationship between multiple branches of knowledge. A word we have heard multiple times in reference to a goal we should have in our own educations. And an adjective that this university holds close to her heart. Some of you may be asking yourself why a communication major is giving this address. Don't worry. I asked myself the exact same question when I was asked to come up here to say a few words, but that's because for the past three years at MSU, I've danced this fine line of trying to find my own academic identity. I knew what I wanted to do. I just didn't find identity in the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, but also didn't find identity in the social sciences or the arts and humanities. I just was what I was, a communication major who loves data analytics and research methods. But I, like many of the students here, am someone who wants to make the world a better place, a more accessible place for all.

Alyssa Fritz

In my case, I'll do it through helping the world to find a voice in topics of speech language pathology. But some of you may go on to study foodborne illnesses and work to implement policy to protect the everyday consumer. Others may go on to study personalized genetic medicine practices to help better target cancer in the body. These are all topics that people who visit this facility daily may study and may one day centralize their whole career around. I'm just one Spartan story of interdisciplinary identities, but there are thousands of us. Of course, the STEM acronym is, in itself, an integration of multiple disciplines. This building and everything it stands for culminates to the foundations of what it truly means to be interdisciplinary. And as a senior who's walked by in this construction site for the past three years, I'm excited to see what other Spartan stories begin here today. Thank you.

Mark Largent:

Thank you, Alyssa. Well, now I'd like to introduce our last presenter, last speaker. Certainly not least, she's my boss. I would like to introduce someone for whom excellence in STEM has been a lifelong pursuit, MSU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. Teresa K Woodruff stands at the nexus of excellence in research and education. Her many distinctions include receiving the presidential award for excellence in science mentoring under President Obama and earning the Endocrine Society's Laureate award in 2021, a top honor that recognizes the highest achievements in the field of endocrinology. Provost Woodruff's accomplishments in the sciences are matched by her passion for education. It's what makes getting to work for her truly a joy. It's my pleasure now to introduce provost Teresa K Woodruff.

Teresa K Woodruff:

Well, good afternoon, everyone. And thank you so very much, Mark. For all of the reasons noted before me, this new facility truly represents institutional investment being made in STEM here at MSU, in Michigan, and beyond. I want to add my thanks to President Stanley for his leadership, Trustee Byrum and our Board of Trustees, those who are here and those who are not, as well as to our great leadership, both in the state and at the federal level who represent us so well every day. And also to Glenn Granger and his team with whom I've spent many, multiple quality hours touring the building with multiple awestruck faculty and students. Thank you for our partnership. Infrastructure requires bricks and mortar entries. It requires intellectual planning and people. And bridging all of these requirements, our Nestor Deocampo who is here somewhere. Nestor? I hear some woots.

Teresa K. Woodruff

He's way in the back. He's standing, but way in the back. And Barb Kranz who is here in the front. Both of whom are excellent partners to all of us in the provost office and Dan Bollman in Infrastructure Planning and Facilities. Dan, thank you to all of your members of that team.

The architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said form follows function. That has been misunderstood. Form and function should be joined in a spiritual union. From its mass timber framing to the easy snap lab benches to the flipped inverse and other newly invented teaching modalities, form and function are truly unified in this MSU STEM Teaching and Learning Facility. Some of you have heard me talk about the ways in which I see MSU rising. In particular, through spirals of excellence that are beacons to the world, drawing in the best educators and teachers and lighting the pathway to a new generation of student learners. These instructional models create a union with the building itself and will move students from what I call horizontal learning, that which we already know, to vertical learning, that which we have yet to discover. Some of you have also heard me talk about the imprint that we wish to have every MSU student have.

Areas of entrepreneurship and innovation, ethics and honor, quantitative and creative skills. This building is emblematic of each of these traits. This new building will be a place and space that fosters discovery and innovation, a site of opportunity and exponential intellectual expansion. There's also a place in a space that bridges the arts and the sciences with its fourth floor student project space that will feature cross-disciplinary projects along with a common area for performances and the display of public art. Here, both the creative and the quantitative will be nurtured and explored. Boundaries will be pushed, stretched, and even shattered. This is truly a facility that speaks to and encourages the whole student with opportunities to learn, and to know, and to discover, and to create. A building in which form and function are inherently one. An academic spiritual union right here at Michigan State University. We welcome all of the intellectual and creative energy and excitement it will bring to our community of scholars and we are grateful to every individual who played a role in getting us to this auspicious day. Thank you. And welcome.

Mark Largent:

Having the building is wonderful. It's nice and it's empowering, but it is not in and of itself sufficient. It needs to be filled with the right things. So having the best science education building and offering the world's best science education, are not necessarily guaranteed. That's why we're going to guarantee it. The first thing that we did is we hired two really talented colleagues and we brought them into the provost office as the assistant dean and associate dean for STEM education. I want to welcome and thank two of my colleagues, Stephen Thomas, and Julie Libarkin for filling those roles.

They're right here. And I want you to buttonhole them and engage with them afterwards because you will find out immediately what a wealth of knowledge and experience and energy that they have. They are deeply collaborative colleagues, and I'm really excited that they're joining this effort to make this the world's best scientific education institution. They will do it based on disciplinary education research, based on scholarship of teaching and learning, and they will do it so that every one of our students is supported to develop their purposes and their passions. And so that every student we admit learns thrives and graduates. That that is our goal. So thank you for what all of you have done and for what all of you are going to do in this building. This is a really wonderful day. Thank you for joining us for it.