PKAL Volume IV: What Works, What Matters, What Lasts

Making the Case for New Spaces for Science

A Leadership Responsibility

Making a case that is compelling and contextual, building teams that are creative and collaborative, and encouraging conversations that are communal and collegial are three of the critical responsibilities of leaders.

Recent PKAL meetings have addressed, from several perspectives, the umbrella theme of being an advocate for undergraduate STEM. A case study was used as a "learning device" at the March 2007 PKAL Facilities Planning Workshop. We invite you to review the case study, and consider its potential for your on-campus planning efforts. This case study addresses issues about how to shape the case for new spaces for science: how to shape the case and to identify and influence particular audiences within your home community. The suggestions arrived at by workshop participants follow the case study. They will be of interest to all leaders responsible for communicating the why of the work of building and sustaining robust undergraduate STEM learning environments.

Making a case that is compelling and contextual, building teams that are creative and collaborative, and encouraging conversations that are communal and collegial are three of the critical responsibilities of leaders.

At the March 2007 PKAL Facilities Planning Workshop, participants engaged in an extended discussion about how to engage colleagues—at appropriate stages—in these three tasks, using a PKAL Case Study as a catalyst for ideas. Although given specific issues to address, the results of these discussions (among seventeen tables) were suggestions that ranged widely—from nuts and bolts ideas on how to generate campus interest in the facilities project to philosophical statements about the role of science as a 21st century liberal art.

Examples

Nuts and bolts about making the case in the process of planning new spaces:

  • know how people think about the current spaces: seek insights about how colleagues now ‘imagine’ their spaces—as owned by individuals or as community property at the departmental or institutional level; take photos of spaces and discuss (perhaps in a divisional retreat) what works and what does not work in specific spaces
  • build informed colleagues: take teams (including trustees) to campuses where there are recently-completed STEM facilities and explore what works for them; undertake shuttle diplomacy—one on one contacts with colleagues; identify and involve everyone on the campus with relevant expertise and experience.

General strategies for making the case for strengthening science (STEM):

  • have your students tell your stories, about how their interest in science really exploded…and why
  • keep impact on students at the center of your case
  • collect data about the effectiveness of new/established approaches (what works)
  • gather and distill insights from national reports about the urgency of undergraduate STEM reform
  • find a means to visualize the changing nature of science and thus of science facilities, for the entire community
  • understand your audience
  • understand how control of institutional resources is perceived.

Making the case for linking renewal of program and space:

  • build interdisciplinary centers that provide students and faculty to collaborate on addressing societal issues (all mostly interdisciplinary)
  • think of the new facility as the institutional ‘peacock’s tail’
  • think of the new facility as a means to make science visible to the entire constituency of the institution
  • stress that robust learning in STEM fields is a hallmark of 21st century colleges and universities of distinction.