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Allied Health seen as a “missed opportunity” for undergraduate science programs

In the new Allied Health Science Building, a small gap between double doors exposes the silver locks that lead to many of the labs. These locks serve a merely symbolic purpose, as outsiders can click them open with the simple swipe of a credit card or writing utensil. The contraptions look secure and official, but are ultimately ineffective in guarding anything on the other side.

As a whole, the Allied Health building functions in a similar manner to its faulty lock system. The building appears pristine and, to a certain extent, it is. Shiny new equipment stocks freshly renovated labs, but the facilities are not as flawlessly functional as appearances may suggest.IMG_0027

One science professor, who wished to remain anonymous, referred to Allied Health as the “pretty shell” of what could have been a fully functional building. Many of the professors for the undergraduate program agree that the administration lessened the potential quality of the building by discounting faculty input. However, almost all of those that spoke out wish to remain anonymous due to “the fear of retribution from the administration,” one said.

 

Construction of Allied Health began under a pressing deadline, in order to prepare the Physician Assistant graduate program before classes commenced in May 2016. A mere 13 months saw the new building to completion but, according to faculty, this record-breaking time came with a heavy cost. The fast-paced schedule left behind a number of unnecessary oversights – minor issues, yet great inconveniences – within the undergraduate facilities.

“Everything was a missed opportunity,” said another anonymous science professor of the new building. “If there had only been the patience and the willingness to get the faculty involved, who are the real people that use this building, it would have been spectacular.”

Over the summer, Jenna Robinson, an Environmental Science and Biology student, witnessed the builders’ disregard the proper set-up for microscope use, against professor recommendations.

“If you’re working on a table with a microscope on it, you want to be able to sit with your legs underneath the counter,” said Robinson. “Then, all of a sudden, construction workers came in and filled the gaps in with cabinets even though the teachers tried to stop them.”

Almost an entire school year later, these cabinets remain in the labs along with a number of other unaddressed logistical issues.

For example, full windowpanes plate the doorways into each of the labs, eliminating the ability to privately set up practical exams or work with materials that require total darkness. To combat this problem, some professors cover the glass by taping up strips of black garbage bags or aluminum foil.  IMG_0017

Inside the labs, classes struggle with a disproportionate number of microscopes to the outlets at each table. The lab sinks, with their automatic sensors and shallow six-inch basins, are also poorly designed, making them difficult to maneuver without splashing. Amanda Diaz, a freshman science student, recalled the automatic sink splashing up “pig juice” during a lab involving animal carcasses.

When asked what parts of the building could be improved upon, the dean of the science department, Dr. James DuMond, agreed that some minor decisions, like the automatic sinks, were mistakes: “little things like that that we thought were a really good idea when we designed the building,” he said. “We realized that they did have a drawback once we installed them.”

During this decision-making process, the department heads participated in planning meetings and faculty received plans for the new facilities. However, they found these efforts to be largely ineffective. “We offered a few suggestions and many of them were ignored,” said one professor regarding the layout of the labs.

“My opinion is they had plenty of input into the building,” said Marist’s Director of Physical Plant Justin Butwell in response to faculty complaints. “It’s a very effective, well thought-out space and I find their criticisms to be unfounded.”

Dean DuMond agreed that faculty were all, in fact, effectively involved in the lab designs, though perhaps not as thoroughly as they would have liked. “Faculty enjoy being able to look at things and have time to understand and
discuss and be more consultative in their thought process,” DuMond said. “Unfortunately, due to the deadlines that were associated with this building, time was not a luxury that we had.”IMG_0070

According to Doctor DuMond and Tony McConnell, an associate from the construction company Robert A.M. Stern Architects, their deadlines did allow for enough time to put a lot of emphasis on the overall appearance of the building. Throughout the project, administrators stressed the importance of making Allied Health look like an extension of the rest of the campus and distinct from a typical science building.

This look includes pristine, sterile hallways, void of any decorations or posters. In order to maintain the aesthetic, though inconsistent with typical collegiate buildings, a directive from Marist upper administration prohibited the science department from posting anything on the walls or using any bulletin boards. Faculty disagree with this rule and would like to be able to advertise student accomplishments, events, or programs, as is allowed in every other building on campus. They believe that this would be an important source of liveliness and inspiration for students.

“The faculty as a whole agree that it doesn’t look like there’s activity going on as tours are going through,” said biology professor Joseph Bettencourt, who will be retiring at the end of this year. “If you look up and down the corridors, there’s no posters; there’s no indication that science work is being done here.”

Eventually, according to Doctor DuMond, the school plans to install interactive electronic kiosks to serve the purpose of bulletin boards and posters.

These stipulations aim to enhance the building’s attractiveness to prospective students and ultimately motivate increased enrollment in the science program. According to Dean DuMond, the new facilities noticeably excite touring families. Since the project’s conception in 2013, the size of the program has inflated dramatically from 108 to 185 undergraduates enrolled in the sciences.

IMG_0039Dolly Boodram, the mother of a prospective science student, articulated her excitement after completing a tour of the new building. “This building is awesome for pre-med,” she said.

For science students, the building comes with additional advantages and resources, beyond aesthetic appeal, that often overshadow the flawed facilities. “People are pleased with the labs overall,” said Professor Bettencourt. “They are better than what we had over in Donnelly and it’s all brand new material and so forth.” Students also have significantly more lab space at Allied Health, which creates more opportunities for them to conduct research over longer periods of time.

With construction long behind them, faculty work through complications to embrace the situation along with their students. At this point, to improve upon the labs, professors can merely pass their complaints on to the dean and hope that he will progressively correct them. But when asked, DuMond remained unconcerned with any pending problems.

“There are no issues,” he said. “[Faculty] have no complaints right now, that I know of, and everything has been resolved as of today.”

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