North Central College - Naperville, IL

A Legacy of Science: College shapes vision for a 21st century science facility

For a college which numbers among its graduates many nationally and internationally recognized doctors, scientists, engineers and teachers of science, it’s hard to believe that four decades ago the future of science at North Central College was very much in doubt. The merger of the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) and Methodist churches in 1968 dramatically affected the EUB church’s historic role in supplying North Central with students and financial support.

The College had a tiny endowment. For generations, the equivalent of endowment income had been the support provided by EUB churches. No longer. Coupled with broader shifts in the student marketplace and other factors, the College faced perhaps the gravest financial crises in its long history. At one point, members of the Board of Trustees had to personally guarantee a bank loan to pay the bills.

Nevertheless it was in this climate that President Arlo Schilling and the Board of Trustees made the courageous decision to move forward on what would become the Kroehler Science Center. According to current President Harold Wilde, “As Arlo described it to me many years later, if North Central was to continue to be a real liberal arts college with a strong science program, there was no choice. At the time Goldspohn Hall was 60 years old (built in 1908) and totally inadequate for the needs of science students in the 1970s. It was becoming almost impossible to attract strong science students. “Although fundraising fell far short of the goal, and compromises had to be made in the science facility they envisioned, the Kroehler Science Center, dedicated on November 11, 1970, was a statement by North Central’s leadership affirming the enduring role of science instruction in the mission of the College.”

That was then. Thirty-nine years later the Kroehler Science Center is showing its age even though its long-time climate control issues were successfully addressed with a $1.5 million renovation in summer 2008, and its laboratory equipment is generally state-of-the-art thanks to the $1.2 million endowment established by the successful Kresge Science Initiative Campaign of 1995. The years since its construction have seen not only dramatic advances in the technology associated with science instruction—and the environmental and life safety specifications of scientific laboratories—but also significant changes in the pedagogies and philosophical perspectives of the best science teaching. Where chemistry, physics and biology were once viewed as separate spheres of inquiry—the “hard sciences”—now much of the most important work in science takes place at the intersections of these disciplines (e.g., biochemistry), as well as other fields such as psychology, mathematics and computer science (e.g., neuroscience).

A 21st century science facility for North Central College should not have the rigid floor plan and lack of “intersection space” of Kroehler; it may need to accommodate additional scientific disciplines; and it will cost a lot of money. But these are the only certainties as the College embarks upon the lengthy planning process mandated in the 2007-2012 Strategic Plan that will lead to a new science center.

Foreshadowing that effort, North Central has sent a team, including among others Trustee Herman White; Marti Bogart, associate dean for academic affairs; Mike Hudson, director of the physical plant; and Jeff Bjorklund, professor of chemistry; to visit newer facilities at DePaul University, Beloit College, Augustana College, Grinnell College and St. Olaf College. In addition, North Central representatives have attended meetings of Project Kaleidoscope, the foremost consulting program in higher education for the design of science facilities.

In March, the College recruited former Wabash College President Andrew Ford to assist in the planning process. Ford was involved in the construction of science facilities as a provost and president. “Our goal is to determine the ideal facilities that will allow our students to have a rich learning experience in the sciences of the 21st century,” says R. Devadoss Pandian, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty.

At the same time, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Rick Spencer and the Board of Trustees face the daunting challenge of finding donations to pay for new science facilities, a challenge made even more difficult by the current economic climate. “We’re not in the same position President Schilling and the Board were 40 years ago,” says Spencer. “North Central is producing Goldwater Scholar winners and science graduates who can compete with anyone, and we’ve got a spectacular science faculty. But we’re going to have to raise more money for a new science facility than we did for the Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center—probably more than $40 million—and that’s a tall order.”

To start this effort, which is expected to take at least four years, Spencer and the College’s Office of Marketing and Communications have created an innovative series of “ads” centered around some of North Central’s most distinguished science graduates. Posted on the College’s website at www.northcentralcollege.edu/sciencelegacy, the ads highlight the disproportionate role of schools like North Central in producing America’s scientific leadership, using examples from our graduates’ lives.

The first ad is about J.E. (Ed) Rall ’40, titled “We’re Looking for Another J.E. Rall.” The list of alumni so recognized on the website includes, among others, Mildred Rebstock ’42, Milford Schultz ’31, Nate Montgomery ’00, J. Guy Woodward ’36, Clifford Wall ’22, Daniel Ruge ’39, Harold Zahl ’27, Roger Hruby ’58, Holly Humphrey ’79 and Veronika Gagovic ’01, and is being expanded regularly.

According to Spencer, “Our hope is to both inspire alumni with stories highlighting North Central’s extraordinary science tradition and to find some generous individuals who may not know North Central well, but who care deeply about the future of science in this nation.” He adds, “We owe nothing less to Arlo and all the faculty who have made science so special for 150 years at this College.”

North Central NOW Spring 2009

08/05/2009