Half a world away from the Middle East, Bucknell University engineering students are working with Professor Amal Kabalan on a device with the potential to change lives in war-torn Lebanon. Kabalan, computer science & engineering, is refining a backpack equipped with a solar-charged light that will enable schoolchildren to study in the safety of their houses at night rather than under street lamps.

Meanwhile, Professor Dan Cavanagh’s biomedical engineering students are working on campus to develop highly sophisticated medical devices in conjunction with physicians and researchers at Geisinger Medical Center in nearby Danville, Pa. The students are designing prototypes for equipment to meet specific health-care challenges, such as a simulator that allows residents to practice surgery techniques and a specialized hypodermic needle that can smoothly administer multiple injections in emergency situations.

These types of intensive learning experiences are a hallmark of the Bucknell undergraduate experience. In the coming months, the University will take significant steps toward expanding such opportunities as it formalizes plans for a new construction project, Academic East.

The planned 78,000-square-foot facility, to be located across from Academic West and shared by the College of Engineering and the Department of Education, will house more than 25 labs and more than 30 offices, along with four classrooms. Perhaps the most exciting feature, according to new Dean of Engineering Pat Mather, is the expansion of state-of-the-art laboratory space available to engineering students and faculty, which will increase by 50 percent.

“One of the deepest educational experiences students can have is in a research laboratory,” Mather said. “You remember the things you personally experienced. If you see a concept come to life, in your hands, with your eyes, you will never forget — even when things don’t go the way you expect them to.”

Academic East will alleviate the significant space constraints on research and lab areas the currently exists, which will allow faculty to pursue research projects and increase opportunities for undergraduates to work side-by-side with their professors on various projects. Students will also benefit from the increased space dedicated to independent research, including design studios dedicated exclusively to senior design projects.

“Research requires space and time,” Mather added. “With dedicated lab space, the only limit will be the energy of the people involved."

According to Provost Barbara Altmann, Academic East is an investment in the idea that students learn best by doing, under the guidance of and in close collaboration with faculty. “It will provide our students with the best possible environment for meaningful interaction with faculty,” she said.

Academic East will support the Human Health Initiative, one of the six pillars of the WE DO Campaign for Bucknell University. It will serve as a nexus for interdisciplinary scholarship and strengthen the Bucknell-Geisinger Research Initiative, a partnership with Geisinger Health System fostering collaborations that explore the most pressing challenges in health care.

As a new home for the Department of Education, Academic East will bring the program closer to the social science departments housed in Academic West and support existing and future education-engineering collaborations. In addition to providing office space for education faculty, Academic East will feature a teaching lab and collaborative workspace for students, providing further opportunities for hands-on learning.

No matter what their majors, students preparing for the next stage of their lives benefit greatly from those experiences, Mather said.

“Resourcefulness is a key attribute,” Mather said. “When our students are presented with circumstances completely different than we simulated in the classroom, we want them to be agile. In independent research they learn to make something from nothing — how to take those first steps. They’re going to be doing that their whole careers.”

With the schematic design for the facility expected to be completed this month, the building could open as soon as 2019, pending final approval by Bucknell’s Board of Trustees and sufficient donor support.