PKAL Facilities Difference

PKAL Facilities Difference

PKAL Facilities Difference

What Difference Do Good Facilities Make?

The question was posed to the PKAL Community in February 2002: What role do new or renovated facilities play in attracting strong students and in sustaining their interest in STEM fields?

Architectural Firms

  • We typically see a 5 - 7% jump in enrollments in science courses, particularly of non-majors, in the two-three years after a new or newly-renovated building opens. New facilities tend to attract students because they accommodate new technologies and other modern teaching tools, and provide more comfortable and welcoming work space. The jump in enrollment usually calms down after the impact of the ‘new' wears off, and then follows the general enrollment trends at that institution.

  • We are planning major facilities at a state university and they are projecting a ten-percent increase in enrollments in the next five years (animal science, biochem/molecular biology and physics). We are struggling with them to find the right way to connect those growth projections to the planning process. It is clear though, at least on this campus, that the departments that are given new spaces are those marked for growth, an instance of institutional planning to capitalize on best programs.

Schools of Engineering

  • Today's students are more sophisticated than in the past, and expect the latest technologies in classrooms and labs. The best students, I believe, are making their decision to attend a particular institution based on scholarships available, and once in– stay in because of the quality of the program and other resources.

Doctoral/Research Universities

  • They play a huge role. My department, which used to be in a quonset hut, is now in a beautiful space and the student interest– even in introductory courses– is increasing. We are attracting more majors as students see there is new work being done, that they have the opportunity to learn cutting-edge things in these new laboratories, not just the same old thing that their parents and grandparents did.

  • As our mathematics departments has been able to do computer-based projects in increasingly better facilities, a growing number of students are attracted to a mathematics major or minor because of the opportunity to do modeling.

  • Our new building, first occupied in the fall of 1997, has been very instrumental in attracting and keeping students. As our engineering program grows, we will need even more space, but our success to this point is, in part, clearly related to the facilities.

  • Majors need a space to call their own, and currently we cannot provide that.

With related comments beyond those about students:

  • New or renovated facilities do much more for faculty than for undergraduates, as 95% of the work that they do does not require state-of-the art facilities. Well-designed facilities that provide student study and interaction spaces and a faculty that does interact with students are infinitely more important than new facilities– particularly if they are designed only to support faculty research, and not student learning.

Comprehensive Universities

  • Since our physics department's spaces were renovated, both the quality and quantity of our incoming freshman has increase. There is also, I believe, an increase in retention.

  • Our new biology/chemistry building has been a shot in the arm to those programs. The involvement of faculty in the planning process was also critical here.

  • "If you build it, they will come."

  • They are critical, as students recognize institutional priorities based on their perceptions of the state of the facilities. Thus, the challenge is to convince on-campus decision-makes that they need to think through the programmatic implications of new spaces before they sign off on a design. (Too often, silly decisions are made by bean-counters who do not understand the needs of academic programs.)

  • They play a huge role and we have used PKAL material as rationale for a new building, and anticipate they will have a huge impact on our biology programs.


  • Maybe not as strong a role as people might think. Faculty are interested in collegiality, salary, time, students and other resources before a new facility.

Liberal Arts Colleges

  • There is no doubt that seeing first-rate facilities in person or in our publications matters to prospective students, particularly in molecular biology and biology. I've heard applicants talking about the quality of resources on the campuses they are visiting.

  • If you don't have the room and the equipment, you cannot do research and thus you cannot engage your students in your research.

  • Logically, there must be a link: student involvement in research is the key to attracting and retaining science students. Without decent facilities, student (and faculty) involvement in research is hindered.

  • It is hard to get students to take labs seriously if they are worse than their HS labs.

  • The relatively new building on our campus has made a tremendous difference in how we teach. It was designed to support an investigative curriculum in which students work on real world problems, with state-of-the-art equipment, under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Labs are much more engaging for students when the spaces are designed to accommodate their work, e.g. work collaboratively to search the scientific literature, design and perform experiments, enter and graph their data, and present their findings to classmates all within a single laboratory space. Advanced students are working collaboratively in contiguous research spaces, sharing high-end equipment and reagents.

    Our students are getting a more realistic idea about how science is really done– from start to finish.

    The building was also based on a vision of a more interdisciplinary future in which departmental boundaries would become increasingly artificial. All faculty are placed together in offices that are open to all building building, every member of every department can stand outside his/her officers and see members of three other departments. Faculty frequently engage in casual conversations that are leading to productive interdisciplinary conversations that are based on a sense of collective mission.