By Michelle Lampariello
Campus stakeholders and New Jersey lawmakers, including Gov. Chris Christie, celebrated the opening of the College’s new STEM Building with a ceremonial ribbon cutting on Thursday, Oct. 12.
The biomedical engineering, computer science and mechanical engineering departments will call the new STEM Building home. Students and faculty will be able to take advantage of the state-of-the-art equipment that the spacious facility has to offer, including multiple research suites and laboratories in addition to study spaces and a student commons.
“As an engineering student, I know I speak on behalf of all of my colleagues when I say that I am super excited, and we all are super excited, to have this new facility for the addition of new technology and space to become innovative engineers and scientists,” said Chris Blakeley, a junior civil engineering major and executive president of Student Government. “These new facilities not only allow for the departments within the schools of engineering and science to grow, but the growth within the TCNJ community and the state of New Jersey.”
College President R. Barbara Gitenstein emphasized the importance of preparing students for careers in the sciences.
“The facilities where we stand today will help the College prepare a new generation of TCNJ graduates for the demands of the STEM economy, and our students are well worth this investment,” Gitenstein said. “Investment in the success of such outstanding students and the programs in which they study will boost TCNJ’s capacity to prepare individuals for the state’s critically important health science platform, as well as the broader STEM needs of the knowledge economy.”
Christie agreed with Gitenstein’s statement and stressed the importance of preparing students for the STEM-based job market.
“More than 11 percent of job growth will happen in the STEM occupations alone by 2025,” Christie said. “If we put our children and our young people in the position to have the skills they need, they are going to be able to get a great paying job, which will help them to support their family moving forward.”
Christie feels that it is imperative for high school graduates in New Jersey to continue higher education in their home state. He believes that facilities such as the College’s new STEM Building are critical in keeping New Jersey’s top students within the state.
“This is so important to be able to invest and grow our colleges and universities so that students have the opportunity to stay here at home and not have to leave the state,” Christie said. “That brain drain is something that New Jersey really can’t afford, especially in this technological economy.”
When concluding his speech at the ribbon cutting, Christie commented on Gitenstein wrapping up her tenure as president of the College after nearly 20 years.
“While I’m happy that we’re leaving together, I’m sorry that she’s leaving at all,” Christie said.
“Pick wisely as you move forward, because the selections that you make I think will in large measure determine the direction of this institution. This president has placed it on an extraordinary course, and I hope that you will be able to continue it.”
The building’s construction would not have been possible without support from the state.
“This 115,000-square-foot addition to our campus was made possible by an unprecedented investment from the state, including $40 million from the Building Our Future Bond Act, and $6 million from the Higher Education Facilities Trust Fund,” Gitenstein said.
The new facility houses the Computer Science Faculty-Student Collaborative Research Suite, as well as the High-Performance Scientific Computing Cluster. The research suite will “accommodate a wide array of research areas including computer imaging, networking and security, machine learning, grid computing and computational journalism, and human-computer interaction,” according to the College’s website.
The computing cluster will be used for faculty and student research and will string together approximately 300 servers. Computer science students look forward to taking advantage to the new building’s state-of-the-art technology, as well as enjoy its modern and open aesthetic.
“I’m looking forward to the new environment,” said Babette Chao, a sophomore computer engineering major. “The fresh look of the classrooms makes learning feel more welcoming. There are also new equipments that are more updated and more relevant to the modern industry, so it makes projects and labs easier and hopefully faster.”
The building’s Mechanical Engineering Design Studio allows students to turn their design concepts into validated final products. In addition to serving as a research lab for faculty and students, the design studio includes equipment for making prototypes, testing materials and conducting systems validations.
“I think it can benefit the entire campus. All of the manufacturing capabilities are enhanced,” said Lisa Grega, a mechanical engineering professor at the College.
Grega mentioned that the School of Engineering is happy to no longer be confined to Armstrong Hall. She is grateful that faculty and students can now take advantage of the STEM Building’s innovative technology and numerous study spaces throughout the facility.
Freshman biomedical engineering major Sarah Fontana echoed Grega’s sentiment.
“All of the equipment is brand new and state of the art, and it’s what the professors want because they all got to choose,” Fontana said. “I also like the extra study space to come to, sometimes when the library gets crowded it’s nice to come here. Armstrong isn’t about to pop anymore — I can actually walk down the hallway now.”
The new facility also features a Biomedical Engineering Research Suite and Robotics Laboratory.
The Robotics Laboratory will allow students to research and learn about hardware design, while the research suite “features biosafety level 2 facilities that allow for sophisticated experiments in support of research thrusts in areas such as neural engineering and prosthetics, tissue engineering, physiological control systems, and hemocompatibility,” according to the College’s website.
Construction of the new STEM Building marks the completion of phase one of the College’s $75 million STEM Complex project. Phase two will be comprised of renovations to the College’s previously existing Science Complex, including the biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics buildings. Phase three will include renovations to Armstrong Hall. EYP Architecture & Engineering is responsible for phases one and two of the project, according to the College’s website.
College leadership is grateful for opportunity to have state-of-the-art technology and research opportunities available to students.
“These facilities provide cross-disciplinary spaces that offer to faculty and students new and enriched opportunities for exploration, knowledge, skill development and research,” said Jorge Caballero, chairman of the College’s Board of Trustees. “We are truly grateful for the bipartisan support that made this possible, and also thankful to the citizens of New Jersey for supporting this investment.”