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From vision to reality: BW's new, high-tech STEM center opens to students

BW Knowlton Center exteriorA 55,000 square foot, cutting-edge hub for computer science, mathematics, physics and engineering is now elevating advanced learning, research and collaboration at Baldwin Wallace University.

Classes began gathering in The Austin E. Knowlton Center on Tuesday, January 19, the first day of the spring 2021 semester.

A virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony and online tour, led by BW President Bob Helmer and Dean James McCargar, marked the opening, which was also featured by Crain's Cleveland Business.

STEM disciplines and more

Contractors, faculty and staff were busy over the winter break moving in and setting up classrooms, labs and collaboration spaces for safe physical distancing.

At the same time, faculty are envisioning and planning new opportunities for hands-on testing, analysis and innovation enabled by the incredible, new facilities.

While Knowlton is the academic home of four BW STEM disciplines, faculty are already laying the groundwork for projects that will involve students and faculty from academic programs across campus.

Wow factor

Baldwin Wallace University Knowlton Center atrium and forum staircaseThe building's impressive features, designed with input from industry leaders, faculty and students, include a soaring glass atrium with a forum staircase, which offers ample seating for special events and is outfitted with a large-screen laser projection system.

The lobby also features an exposed elevator shaft elegantly wrapped in an ombre pattern of salvaged campus tree wood.

The building is home to a dozen flexible, tech-enabled classrooms, along with 10 team workspaces that mimic what graduates will find in professional work environments.

Fab lab and maker space

But the building's laboratories may be the star attraction. "The Knowlton Center's advanced labs will foster collaboration between sciences as students, faculty and regional business partners work together to solve unscripted problems," Dean McCargar noted.

For example, the fabrication lab ("fab lab") will enable engineering students to design, prototype and build real-world projects with regional industry and government partners.

According to Dr. Jennifer Kadlowec, professor and chair of engineering at BW, "The new maker space will allow prototype and final production of parts for projects in engineering and computer science, such as in IoT (Internet of Things) and mechatronics. Users across campus, from entrepreneurship to the arts, are also interested in leveraging the maker facilities."

Kadlowec adds that both maker and fab labs will foster "sustainable design to meet needs here at home and abroad, including in the developing world."

Data visualization and user experience

Baldwin Wallace University's Knowlton Center data visualization labThe data visualization lab will support math and computer science students as they track and graph data for the data-centric challenges of business and society, while the user experience (UX) lab, with both recorded and live observation options, will help students understand and build empathy for the users of their software.

"Students will experience first-hand the importance of considering user needs at every step of the software development lifecycle," explained Dr. Andrew Watkins, associate professor and chair of computer science.

The spacious robotics lab will host a variety of robotic platforms for experimentation. Faculty anticipate the acquisition of humanoid robotics that will open the door to collaboration across BW disciplines to explore and solve a range of interesting problems.

Faculty are also eager to host outreach programs like tech and science camps, hackathons and competitions to benefit younger students throughout Northeast Ohio.

Transformative STEM support

Baldwin Wallace University Knowlton Center study and team workspacesConstruction of the $25 million project, completed on time in spite of the global pandemic, was supported by a number of generous donations, including an $8 million grant from The Austin E. Knowlton Foundation.

Additional corporate and foundation support included major gifts from OEC, a Richfield-based, Software as a Service technology company; The Harding Family Charitable Trust; and FirstEnergy Foundation and FirstEnergy Corporation.

At an October 2019 groundbreaking for the building, President Helmer expressed BW's deep gratitude to the project funders. "This investment comes at the right time for Northeast Ohio, as demonstrated by the strong support of generous donors who have rallied around this project."

Virtual Ribbon-Cutting and Tour

The Austin E. Knowlton Center was designed by The Collaborative with construction led by AMHigley.

Watch a replay of the virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony and Knowlton Center tour below.

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