The Trickle-Up Effect of STEM Initiatives in University Construction

by Saul Schrader

Saul Schrader

Saul Schrader

Colleges and universities throughout greater Boston continue to make headlines with their expansion plans.

Northeastern University is set to open its brand new, 220,000sf interdisciplinary science and engineering facility in 2016. Boston University will break ground this May on the Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering, a $150 million, nine-story, state-of-the-art facility. And the University of Massachusetts at Boston just opened its Integrated Sciences Complex, which marked the first new academic building on campus in almost 40 years. The list goes on, and not just in Boston but across the country.

With the growing emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives in elementary and secondary school curriculum, it’s no wonder that higher education institutions are also focusing on ways they can improve their STEM-related facilities. At least some of the uptick in growth and renovation of these types of facilities can be attributed to a trickle-up effect from this early exposure to these fields.

Certainly some of the new constructions are the result of advances in the fields of science, technology, engineering and, to a lesser extent, math, that require the latest equipment and have potentially made other tools or configurations obsolete. As performance in these fields has been very publicly benchmarked with the performance of students in other countries around the globe, now more than ever it is crucial that higher educational facilities provide both rich curriculum in these subjects and the necessary surroundings that support hands-on learning in these subjects.

In addition, given that kids are getting more exposed to these fields than ever before in more complex ways and at earlier ages, the likelihood of continually increasing enrollment in these fields is a definite possibility. University presidents and boards are smart to recognize that enrollment interest in these majors will almost definitely continue to rise.

Yet new buildings are not the only construction projects taking place on college campuses.

Various levels of renovation allow a current space to be improved and sometimes repurposed. Certainly there are challenges to working in these types of environments, including tight schedules based on academic calendars or research projects in labs and concern for worker safety as well as the safety of the people still working in the labs. At the completion of the project, however, there is no denying that the efforts were not only worthwhile but have enhanced the quality of learning.

As advances continue in these fields, future renovations will be needed to allow them to continue to offer them cutting-edge facilities. Through these forward-thinking projects, the infrastructure has been put in place, allowing an excellent base from which to expand and grow.

Saul Schrader is a senior project manager at Acella Construction Managers.