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Southwestern Receives Lead Gift for New Science Center

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    Artist's rendering of the expanded and renovated Fondren-Jones Science Building. The new entrance on the north side of the building can be seen, along with new windows on the fourth floor and a pedestrian promenade connecting the building to the Academic Mall.

Cullen Foundation of Houston pledges $3 million for project to expand and renovate the Fondren-Jones Science Building

Southwestern has received its first major gift toward the construction of a new science center – a $3 million gift from The Cullen Foundation of Houston.

Southwestern is raising $24 million to completely redesign its current science facility, the Fondren-Jones Science Building, which consists of an original building constructed in 1954 and a new wing added in 1999. Many of the university’s science laboratories are still located in the 1954 structure. New construction adding 37,000 square feet of new space plus renovations of existing space will result in the new center totaling more than 100,000 square feet.

“Our current facilities no longer adequately support today’s research-based curriculum,” said President Jake B. Schrum. “We have excellent and dedicated teacher-scholars, but we need the facilities to match. This grant from The Cullen Foundation will help us build a new science center that will help us sustain a science education program of the highest caliber.”

Ben Pierce, a biology professor who has spearheaded design plans for the new building, said the overarching goal of the new facility is to connect Southwestern students to 21st century science, which is much more interdisciplinary. “The solutions to today’s complex problems will likely be found not within the confines of traditional disciplines, but in the areas where those disciplines intersect,” Pierce said.

The new building will enable Southwestern to facilitate such interdisciplinary work by consolidating all its science programs into one building. Currently science programs are spread out among three buildings − the Math and Computer Science Department is in Mood Hall and the Kinesiology Department is in the Robertson Center, on the opposite end of campus from the existing science building.

Pierce said the new building also will better connect students to each other and to faculty members. Each floor in the new building will have a “pod” of research laboratories with faculty offices clustered nearby and there will be more spaces for interaction and informal meetings.

“Some of the best learning in science takes place outside the lab,” Pierce said.

Building designers have proposed using glass extensively throughout the interior of the building, a feature that will help all members of the campus community see that scientific discoveries are being made on campus.

The proposed renovation will completely reconfigure the original 1954 structure, making it easier to get from one part of the building to another. A new entrance will be built on the north side of the building and Southwestern will replace Soule Street with a pedestrian promenade that will connect the science building to the Academic Mall, around which most of the other academic buildings on campus are located. The second, third and fourth floors above the new lobby will provide space for six new classrooms with the latest technology.

The roof of the existing science building will be raised to allow the addition of windows on the fourth floor and a central skylight that flows down through all the floors will be added. A portion of the fourth floor will have a “green roof” that is accessible to the public.

Officials at Southwestern hope the new building will encourage more students to study the sciences. Already, more than 40 percent of all applicants to Southwestern express an interest in science, and about one in five students goes on to major in one of the natural sciences, making the Fondren-Jones Science Hall the second-most used academic building on campus. 

They also hope the new building will facilitate additional faculty-student research, which is a hallmark of Southwestern’s science program. In the past five years, Southwestern students in mathematics and the natural sciences have given nearly 130 presentations on original research at regional and national conferences. Students were cited as co-authors 35 times on published articles for peer-reviewed journals, including the International Journal of Oncology, Bioorganic Medical Chemistry, Physiology and Behavior and the Journal of Physical Chemistry

The ability to conduct this type of research has given Southwestern science majors an excellent track record in applications to graduate school. In the past 15 years, the rate of admission to medical, dental and veterinary school for Southwestern students has been nearly 70 percent. In the past decade, 16 Southwestern graduates have been awarded prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships – eight of these in the past two years alone.

Pierce noted that the new facility will better position Southwestern graduates to participate in the rapidly growing healthcare and biotechnology sectors in Williamson County. It also will enable Southwestern to attract top faculty members.

The new science building will be the third on the Southwestern campus that has been either built or renovated with the help of funds from The Cullen Foundation or The Cullen Trust for Higher Education. The Cullen Foundation provided funds for the initial renovation of the historic Roy and Lillie Cullen Building in the mid-1970s and The Cullen Trust for Higher Education provided funds for a second renovation of the building, which is in progress. The Cullen Trust for Higher Education also provided funds for the construction of the Wilhelmina Cullen Admission Center, which opened in 2009.

Raising funds for the construction of the new science building is the highest priority in Southwestern’s ongoing Thinking Ahead fundraising campaign. The new gift from the Cullen Foundation brings the campaign fundraising total to nearly $115 million.