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Westminster Breaks Ground

Westminster Breaks Ground


Westminster alumni who haven’t been on campus in 10 or 20 years might feel a little like Rip Van Winkle when they do visit. The campus is strangely familiar….yet undeniably different.

So much is the same: Converse and Foster Halls, Bamberger, Nightingale, Malouf, and the Dick Science Building. Yet so much is different. The past 10 years have seen an enormous change to our physical plant: three new residence halls; the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business; the Giovale Library; the Dolores Doré Eccles Health, Wellness, and Athletic Center; the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts with the Emma Eccles Jones Conservatory; a complete renovation of the Shaw Student Center; and the Dumke Field, an elevated playing field that sits atop an underground parking garage.

Soon, there will be another major addition to the college landscape. In May, the college broke ground on the capstone in its 10-year campus master plan, the state-of-the-art Meldrum Science Center. Named for Peter and Cathie Meldrum, whose family has long been associated with Westminster (see story), and in recognition of their generous gift, this four-story, 60,000-square-foot building will open for spring semester 2010. The Meldrum Science Center will sit between Foster and Converse Halls. Fundraising for the center began in 2006 following a lead gift from long-time Westminster supporters Ginger and John Giovale.

President Michael Bassis is delighted. “Our science faculty provide outstanding learning opportunities that attract students from across the nation. They deserve a topnotch facility equal to the first-rate education they provide.
The Meldrum Science Center will be just that.”

The design of our current facility mirrors how science was taught during most of the 20th century: classrooms here, labs there, and experimental equipment anchored permanently in one location. Chemistry was taught in one classroom, physics in another, and biology in yet another—a silo mentality that didn’t encourage collaboration across disciplines.

The innovative way science is currently taught (see sidebar) requires classrooms with built-in laboratory space. In addition, our two chemistry and two biology labs simply can’t support the growing enrollment in our science, nursing, and health science programs. The new Meldrum Science Center will house 14 multidisciplinary science classrooms with integrated laboratories and five laboratories dedicated to student-faculty research. Open and flexible teaching and research labs will enable our faculty to teach in the ways they know that students best retain scientific knowledge. The facility design also clusters faculty offices and student workspaces to promote dialogue across disciplines.

In traditional science programs, science students attended three one-hour classes each week, with a separate three-hour lab designed to reinforce the principles taught in class. These “cookbook” lab experiences generally had right or wrong outcomes. At Westminster, science classes meet for two- and three-hour seminars several times weekly with the laboratory experience built right into the class time. A principle is discussed and students move straight to the laboratory bench in the same classroom to experience it.

Today’s laboratory exercises do not always have a known outcome. Students are expected to apply what they’ve learned to solve a problem. Often they must look up information from outside sources using computers at their lab stations. Instead of stepping through a “cookbook recipe” experiment, they often create their own experiments to test what they have learned. The goal is to think through a question or solve a problem. Undergraduate research reinforces and greatly benefits from this new inquiry-based learning approach.

“At Westminster, we teach more than lab skills,” states Paul Hooker, PhD, associate professor of chemistry. “We also teach critical thinking skills and how to analyze situations and come up with the best solution.”

This inquiry-based learning model prepares students to successfully function in a science laboratory or in graduate school immediately following graduation. As a result, Westminster students are admitted to top graduate and medical schools across the country, including Columbia, NYU, Georgetown, and Georgia Institute of Technology. They are accepting jobs at leading biotech and technology concerns, such as ARUP Laboratories, Myriad Genetics, and the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

The science center itself will serve as an important learning tool for students, as well as for the community. Notably, the Meldrum Science Center will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certified, underscoring Westminster’s commitment to the environment. It will be built, and will operate, in an environmentally responsible manner: daylight will be used to the greatest extent possible, and local building materials will be used, as practical, among many other energy and resource-saving measures.

“We’re not making buildings anymore to simply house learning; we’re now viewing them as tools for learning,” says Kerry Case, director of the Westminster Environmental Center. “The Meldrum Science Center will allow students to monitor sustainable resource use in action.”

In short, the Meldrum Science Center is designed to educate and stimulate the creative minds that will move science forward throughout the 21st century. Please visit the science center website at to view its progress!

If you would like to contribute to the Meldrum Science Center or name a lab, faculty office, or any other space,
please contact Lisa Actor, assistant vice president of
institutional advancement, at 801.832.2731 or
email her at