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New College breaks ground on new science wing

The groundbreaking ceremony at New College of Florida Tuesday ended in, well, groundbreaking. From left to right: Peter Hayes, Pat McDonald, Felice Schulaner, Katherine Walstrom, Don O’Shea and John Milton.
The groundbreaking ceremony at New College of Florida Tuesday ended in, well, groundbreaking. From left to right: Peter Hayes, Pat McDonald, Felice Schulaner, Katherine Walstrom, Don O’Shea and John Milton. Bradenton Herald

Although construction has already technically begun, New College of Florida officially commemorated a new wing of its Heiser Natural Sciences Complex with a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday.

The new wing will add another 22,000 feet to the two-wing, 34,000-square-foot complex and will create space for more laboratories, faculty offices and a computer science reading room. The complex was named for the late Gen. Rolland V. Heiser, who was a former president of the New College Foundation.

Katherine Walstrom, chair of the college’s Natural Sciences Division, said there were two goals in mind when in the designing phase: more research space and more interactions.

“We designed the new wing so that faculty in different disciplines would pass each other in hallway and there would be more spaces for students and faculty to interact,” Walstrom said.

Wider hallways, a lobby and an outside area for all NCF students to study and relax will help make this happen. The college received $655,000 in 2014 for designing and planning the new wing and was awarded $7.2 million total for construction. The college requested from the Florida Legislature in August an additional $1.85 million for the remaining cost of construction, furniture and equipment.

NCF president Don O’Shea said the college has the second largest percentage of students in a Florida state university majoring in science or math behind the University of Florida, where 36 percent of the UF student body majors in science or math. He also said that about 16 percent of NCF’s graduates go on to get STEM-related doctorates, the third highest in the nation behind California Institute of Technology and Harvey Mudd College.

“New College has always had a history of producing a lot of scientists,” said NCF president Don O’Shea. “There’s lots of opportunities for collaboration. Interesting science happens here.”

Meagan Ash, a third-year chemistry and biology student at NCF, said during a speech at the ceremony that the school’s emphasis on independent research coupled with lots of students and little space makes it hard on students.

“We’ve obviously (felt) the strain of all of the crowding and the multiple generations of really cool independent thought that have happened here,” she said. “Speaking from a personal standpoint, it’s a little difficult to find an opening for a lab class.”

She hopes that more labs will help students’ learning processes, like when she was able to study the effects of sunscreen on coral reef ecosystems as a first-year student.

Gwenne Heiser, the wife of Gen. Heiser who passed away in June, was at NCF with her family for a celebration of life and the groundbreaking ceremony.

“My husband will be very thrilled and proud,” Gwenne said, adding she thinks students will appreciate the new wing.

“It’s been fun to watch it develop.”

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse

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