By Daniel Bendtsen
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — Work on the University of Wyoming’s Engineering Education and Research Building should be completed this month, with almost all equipment expected to be moved in by the start of summer session.
The $105 million building got an unexpected programming boost of $3 million last month as Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, was able to convince his fellow legislators to add more funding into the state’s supplemental budget for the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Michael Pishko, the college’s dean, told the Laramie Boomerang money will be on “strategic initiatives and equipment” to help bring the college into “Tier 1” status, a somewhat loose term used by outside observers to describe the nation’s top engineering schools.
The new building stresses the importance of open space and is aimed to encourage engineering students from different disciplines to interact with each other.
The building foregoes the traditional laboratory structure in favor of large shared labs that will be used by multiple professors in different degree programs.
“They’re not like the typical academic arrangement where a professor gets a lab and you basically get the keys back when they retire or die,” Pishko said.
The concept helps avoid redundant lab space, and also aims to foster a sense of collaboration.
“What ends up happening is you have students working on different projects in proximity to each other, and they start talking to each other and thinking more innovatively rather than being in their own silos,” Pishko said.
That’s a big departure from the structure of UW’s old Engineering Building, which largely isolates, by floor, the programming for different degrees.
“This is designed to bust that up,” Pishko said.
There is some specificity to the labs. There’s a bioengineering lab, an integrated fluid mechanics lab, a combustion lab, a produced water lab and a hydrocarbons lab for enhanced oil recovery.
The building also includes the Center for Design Thinking, where engineering students will work to improve the aesthetics of their projects.
“Anytime a product is developed, there’s that economic viability part and there’s technical viability, and there’s also the consumer desirability. People buy an iPhone because it looks great,” Pishko said.
“(The Center for Design Thinking) where you’re going to find a lot of technology, including horizontal smart tables, vertical smart boards, 3-D holographic projection systems and a lot of animation technology.”
One of the highest-tech parts of the building is the Student Innovation Center, which Pishko said will have “all the tools you’d need to make a prototype,” like 3-D printers, water-jet cutters and laser etching machines.
Students are expected to make prototype vehicles in that part of the building, and the building has “garage doors” so that students can take their vehicles outside and test them.
“You might see things zipping up-and-down Bradley (Street) as early as next summer,” Pishko said.
The college’s departments will continue to be housed in the old building, while some laboratory equipment will be moved to the new building.
“A lot of what you’ll see here is new. It’s not duplicative,” Pishko said. “Some of the equipment will be moving over, but a lot of it, we’ll be buying new. A lot of our equipment is antiquated and this is our opportunity to replace it.”
One lab is “vibration-controlled,” with floors, pipes and ductwork all designed to dampen vibration in the room and aid the use of electron microscopes or precision lasers.
With the building’s maximum occupancy of 1,500, Pishko said the internet’s wireless should be capable of supporting three devices per person.
The building’s also been designed for that broadband capacity able to be doubled.
The building also includes two classrooms designed to support “active learning” style of instruction, where students watch lectures at home and complete “homework” and other projects during class.
“The long-term trend is to move the courses into an active learning mode and thta’s because you tend to have better student outcomes,” Pishko said. “Students tend to retain the material better, but it is something that requires a culture change, both for the professors and the students.”