Beyond serving as a snazzy, contemporary space in which to study, Wilkes University’s newest building supplies something the Wyoming Valley sorely needs: a catalyst to encourage more area residents to pursue careers in science.
Why not aspire to be an environmental engineer?
A practitioner in the health sciences?
The Lawrence and Sally Cohen Science Center, dedicated earlier this month, dangles those — and many other — possibilities before people who visit the downtown Wilkes-Barre campus or drive past the prominent, four-story structure on South River Street. The $35 million science center includes eight research laboratories.
Its glass-walled student lounges overlooking the Susquehanna River to the west and, in the opposite direction, the campus quad practically invite onlookers to envision themselves inside, pondering cell behavior, chemical equations or other “secrets” of the natural world. Perhaps recognizing the building’s allure, university officials have extended a formal invitation to the public to explore the place; an open house is set for one week from today. (For details, see the accompanying fact box.)
Presumably, the open house will be the first of many chances for the region’s residents — particularly those of school age — to see what goes on inside the center, whetting their appetites for a fuller immersion in scientific studies. The building itself serves as a learning tool. Constructed to meet certain energy-conserving standards, this “green” facility uses lots of natural light and its roof is intended to be partly covered in vegetation. The plant life absorbs rain, preventing runoff and potentially minimizing flooding at street level.
No chalkboards here, folks. In this place, college students and professors rely on “interactive whiteboards” and wireless Internet.
Credit the university’s planners and contributors, including lots of generous alumni who responded to a $20 million capital campaign, for prioritizing science. Jobs in “STEM” fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — typically pay the bills more readily than, say, the retail and warehouse posts so prevalent in this part of Pennsylvania. Plus, communities full of people that embrace these skills help to make the nation more globally competitive and can even lift the living standard of a particular city or region.
At Wilkes, many faculty members are no strangers to the “hard sciences.” Prior research projects involving undergraduates and their teaching mentors have been funded by federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy, according to a university press release.
The new science center positions Wilkes to draw more attention to its programs and, if all goes as hoped, propel its faculty and students to even loftier heights of scientific accomplishment.
Yes, it’s only a brick-and-steel building. But in spaces such as this, when properly inspired, people quickly realize there is much — about our planet and our human potential — we have yet to discover.