Register staff report
Eastern Kentucky University’s new science building has been open for one semester and half of another, but the facility is already making a difference, President Doug Whitlock said during a Saturday morning dedication ceremony.
Basking in a sense of accomplishment in the last year of his presidency, Whitlock said:
• Student test scores are up
• Absenteeism is down
• Faculty collaboration and scholarship are up
• Instructor evaluations have improved.
Saturday’s gathering of mostly current and retired faculty in the building’s central atrium was more a celebration than a dedication, several participants said.
The $64 million, 175,000-square-foot facility, on Kit Carson Drive next to Eastern’s health sciences complex, houses the departments of chemistry and physics/astronomy as well as science education classrooms and laboratories.
However, only half of the building has been completed. A second phase that will house biological sciences as well as the geography/geology departments has not been funded and remains EKU’s top construction priority, Whitlock said.
Other speakers at the hour-long event included U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Sixth District; Dr. Gary Booth, an EKU alumnus who is the retired vice president of research for Procter & Gamble; and Dr. Malcolm Frisbie, faculty regent and the faculty “shepherd” during the design and construction process.
Dorinda Rigsby, a pre-pharmacy major who received a scholarship endowed by Booth and his wife, also spoke.
Joanne Glasser, who was EKU president when the General Assembly funded the project, attended the ceremony but did not speak.
Chandler praised the work of former state legislators Harry Moberly and Ed Worley to secure funding. “(Their) contributions to EKU have been incalculable,” he said.
Whitlock thanked the congressman for securing approximately $1.3 million in federal funding to equip the building.
Both Chandler and Whitlock cited the importance of science for America’s future prosperity and global competitiveness.
Chandler said the country’s low rankings in math and science “absolutely have to change. It starts with our public K-12 schools and ends with our universities. We’re talking about improving our lives … and making our country competitive in a global economy. I’m proud of EKU for stepping up to the plate.”
Rigsby, a sophomore, said she has been “really impressed” by the classrooms, labs and “state-of-the-art” technology, as well as by the University’s sciences faculty, who she said “take great pride in the subject they’re teaching. This building is a shining example of how much Eastern does care. I’m very proud to be a student of this university.”
Booth said he has visited university science facilities in Europe, India and China, “and this is really world-class.
“It’s very important,” Booth said, “for students to have hands-on experiences, and (this facility) is designed to shorten the interface between the classroom and hands-on work.”
Frisbie, also a professor of biological sciences, said: “Universities are filled with creative, energetic and innovative people (and) are at their best when they harness that creativity, innovation and energy. No project epitomizes what can be done by a University community more than this building does.”
He saluted Glasser for her vision almost a decade ago, Moberly and Worley for their persistent efforts in the General Assembly, and Whitlock for his strong support “to enable this to go forward.”
The building in its current form would not have been possible without the support of two academic departments that aren’t yet located within its walls. Frisbie saluted the administrators of the departments of biological sciences and geography/geology for their willingness to remain in their current home until Phase 2 can be constructed.
“Our work is not done,” Frisbie said. “Let’s get funding in this next legislative session, and let’s make it our goal that we meet back here in April 2017 for another dedication ceremony when we open Phase 2.”
A plaque honoring Frisbie’s work as “advocate, ambassador, translator, diplomat and referee” was unveiled during the ceremony.
“His efforts made every aspect of this building better,” Whitlock said.