August 22, 2013

Academic West provides abundant space for group work and student-faculty interaction.

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By Matt Hughes

LEWISBURG, Pa. — With students returning to campus and the start of classes days away, Bucknell's new 70,000-square-foot academic building is open.

The University invited Bucknell students, faculty and staff to tour its newest academic building, Academic West, at a recent open house. As administrators looked over a long-planned dream come to fruition, the students and faculty that will share the space envisioned possibilities for Bucknell's new addition. After perusing the structure's wired classrooms, airy department offices and abundant hearth spaces, first-year student Melissa Walker, who wants to become a teacher, was all smiles.

"This is wonderful," Walker said. "It's nice — it's beyond nice."

Academic West is the University's first new academic building since 2004 and Bucknell's largest construction project in more than a decade. It lodges 16,200 square feet of classroom space and numerous hearth spaces facilitating collaboration and dialogue between faculty and students. Its use of glass partitions in lieu of walls and expansive windows further blurs the lines between spaces and encourages exploration and collaboration.

"This building has a ton of those little pocket areas for students to study in," said Shaneka Dixon '15. "I think that's beneficial for students, because they'll be more likely to get together in study groups if they know where to go."

Dixon said she imagines the building becoming, like nearby Bertrand Library, a space where students congregate to study and work together.

"I'll be here," she said confidently. "I have no classes in here and I'll be here."

The structure provides computers for 102 students, a Geographic Information Systems laboratory equipped with advanced mapping software and licenses for additional research tools never before available to Bucknell students. Smart classrooms allow teachers to control lighting and window shades, projectors, media players, a webcam and an overhead document camera from a single touch screen. | Read more about how a Mellon Foundation grant supports digital scholarship.

The facility also affords permanent, dedicated space for two University initiatives: the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy and the Field Research Teaching Lab.

"Having a physical space gives us some visibility on campus that we have not been able to have before," said Professor of Economics Amy Wolaver, co-director of the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy. "The intention is to create a work space or meeting space for faculty, for students, for our interns who work with us."

The Institute and the Field Research Teaching Lab share a pair of conference rooms and office spaces for a joint program coordinator and program assistant. The Field Research Teaching Lab trains students and faculty to conduct research in the communities and environment around Lewisburg and facilitates such opportunities. Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies Ben Marsh, academic coordinator for the Lab, imagines using Academic West's meeting spaces for planning field research excursions and its webcam-equipped classrooms for conducting social science research interviews with subjects in far-off countries via web chat.

"The thing that impresses the faculty about this building is that there is so much open, group work space," Marsh said.

While the new building's footprint on campus is large and unmistakable, its designers have ensured its carbon footprint is as light as possible. The building will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified at the silver level, meeting strict standards for energy efficiency and environmental stewardship. Its green features include smart lighting, an 8,000-square-foot vegetated roof spread with succulent plants to absorb rainfall and provide insulation, and a stormwater management system camouflaged as a series of rain gardens.

The opening of Academic West firmly sets the cornerstone for the largest phase of expansion in Bucknell's history. In coming years, the University plans to construct a second academic building, Academic East, forming a new open quadrangle, as well as additional residence halls and a new art building or complex. The University will break ground on four new residence halls in September, with a planned August 2015 opening date. Construction will follow the blueprint for future buildings and green spaces outlined in the Campus Master Plan, initiated in 2007.

"There's already tremendous energy in the building as our faculty settle into this amazing new space, and it will be great when our students see it next week for the first time," President John Bravman said. "It's a learning space, a gathering space, a space with so much to offer, and we are grateful to the donors who have made it possible."
Several major gifts helped fund the $25 million facility as part of the WE DO Campaign. Publicly launched last October, the campaign has raised more than $275 million of its half-a-billion dollar goal.

The addition also frees space for renovations of existing structures on campus, including the renovation of the Vaughan Literature Building now underway, and consolidates department offices formerly spread among multiple buildings. The opening of Academic West prompted shifts in more than 20 campus departments and offices spread among eight buildings. The new construction provides 65 offices for the departments of economics, geography, international relations, Latin American studies, political science and sociology/anthropology, as well as the Environmental Studies Program.