Clarkson College strives to provide the best instruction in anatomy, chemistry and physiology and requires facilities that are on par with the quality of this instruction. The Mary E. Balken Science Lab served as one of the institution’s focal points for science education, and like other long-standing establishments, it began to face its own set of obstacles over time.
In early 2018, the College rose to the challenge of upgrading the Science Lab, creating a new space to meet its changing needs. The project’s thoughtful planning and execution reflect the College community’s dedication to learning and excellence, and the revamped lab welcomed its first classes during the fall 2018 semester.
From 1997 to 2004, the Science Lab lived in the Arts and Sciences building located at 41st and Dodge Streets. The building also housed two General Education faculty offices, the Success Center and a classroom space. Campus facilities were reassessed in the early 2000s, and several renovations were implemented to enhance campus and the College student experience. The Arts and Sciences building was demolished and replaced with the Student Center and Residence Hall buildings in 2004. The Student Center space contains the campus bookstore, study spaces, J.W. Upright Success Center and Howard Hall, a multi-purpose indoor area created to hold events and meetings.
The new campus additions helped the institution flourish but brought additional challenges, including where to relocate the Science Lab. The lab, its classroom and office facilities were moved to its current location on the second floor of the main College building. Previously the bookstore, a community lounge and Student Government Association office space, the new Science Lab lacked the setup of traditional open floor plan science classrooms and learning spaces that encourage collaboration and cooperation. Incorporating offices, safety features, storage areas and lab stations while maintaining enough space for students and lab equipment became difficult in the updated area. However, the new location met the school’s need for a dedicated science space, and faculty demonstrated their commitment to students by utilizing the lab as an education hub—all while planning for the future.
In 2017, the institution renamed the space the Mary E. Balken Science Lab to honor long-time General Education Associate Professor Mary Balken who passed away in 2016. The name change was the first of many planned transitions as the College prepared to implement new Science Lab updates.
Advancements in academics and science education require that students have access to the newest technology, methods and materials. Clarkson College faculty, staff and administration are dedicated to student success and knew that the best way to give students a truly remarkable experience was to renovate the current Science Lab and create a thoroughly upgraded learning area.
The road to achieving this goal began in 2017 with the establishment of a Critical Success Factor (CSF). General Education Assistant Professor Jeri List headed the committee and led the group in determining the institution’s needs for a new Science Lab and researching best practices.
Director of General Education and Associate Professor Lori Bachle was also a member of the CSF. She leads the team of dedicated science faculty members at Clarkson College, and both instructors and students were at the forefront of the minds of her and her fellow committee members.
“The science faculty at Clarkson College are amazing,” she said. “They are student-centered, and they continuously pushed themselves to find ways to make the old space work by utilizing different parts of the classroom. We knew we needed to find a way to help them perform their best.”
According to Bachle, the initial planning process involved months of research to determine best practices. Committee members visited high school and college labs in the area and spoke with instructors about the benefits and challenges of the spaces. From there, the committee gathered a bank of information that allowed them to determine which aspects they needed to incorporate into the College Science Lab. They also consulted Clarkson College faculty members who gave input about the layout and type of equipment that should be available in
One of the biggest challenges that organizers faced was creating one area to accommodate four different science courses: anatomy, chemistry, microbiology and physiology. The differing equipment and materials required by each course all needed to be housed in a single shared space. “We worked really hard to determine what we needed for each course and how we could accomplish teaching all four classes in one lab space,” said Bachle.
Each challenge offered the committee an opportunity to think outside the box and create a classroom to uniquely serve the needs of Clarkson College instructors and its students.
Following months of research and preparation, College Administration approved the plan for the new Science Lab, and renovation began in May 2018. Administration chose to complete the project during the summer months because the College generally experiences fewer students on campus during that time. The institution closed its lab doors following the end of the spring 2018 semester as the community prepared for the four-month long project.
Bachle worked closely with College Administration to find a solution for science courses taking place during the summer semester. Without another lab space to accommodate students, the institution had to look outside the campus for help. Assistance came from the College of Saint Mary who agreed to rent their lab space to Clarkson College.
“We could not have asked for a more collegial, helpful relationship than we had with the College of Saint Mary,” said Bachle. “We worked with their science lab manager, and he bent over backwards to make things work for us.”
Clarkson College faculty and students spent the summer months commuting to College of Saint Mary to complete their science courses while construction continued on campus. The College Facilities department worked closely with an architect and construction group in every step of planning and renovation to ensure that the project stayed on schedule. Community members heard the tell-tale sounds of demolition and construction over the summer as the new Science Lab began to take shape.
By the end of August 2018, the Science Lab reopened its doors, and students used the space on the first day of the fall semester. New equipment, including microscopes and apparatuses, upgraded safety features such as an eye washing station and shower, and plenty of storage space greeted them as they entered the lab.
One of the space's most noticeable solutions is a new layout that encourages teamwork between students and faculty members. “Collaboration helps students with metacognition and critical thinking,” said Bachle. “The current space allows students to sit three or four at a station, and faculty can easily maneuver the space to talk with anyone at any given time.”
The open floor plan also allows faculty members to more conveniently utilize the space. The Science Lab now contains a closed-off area where faculty can prepare for the next day’s classes by setting up experiments and materials ahead of time. Previously, instructors had to come in after hours or on the weekend to avoid disrupting another class while preparing the lab. “The convenience factor of the lab makes us much more productive,” said Bachle. “The new space opens us up to a lot more capabilities.”
Perhaps one of the best features of the new lab is its capacity for growth. The Science Lab is set up to easily incorporate new technologies and educational learning tools as they become available to the College. These opportunities for advancement and other assets such as multiple whiteboards, cubby spaces for coats and bags, and dedicated laptops make all the difference when it comes to providing students with the best education possible.
Every Clarkson College student enrolled in a general education science course will spend time studying, learning and performing experiments in the Mary E. Balken Science Lab. For many, the space serves as the starting point in their health care journey, fueling their excitement for the medical field. This passion has always been recognized by those within the Clarkson College community, and the Science Lab now echoes the pride the institution takes in its commitment to preparing students
to become the best.