The Colgate Scene
January 2008

Structures of knowledge
Colgate's newest facilities take learning and research to new heights

In November, two monks from Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, N.Y., spent several days in Case-Geyer demonstrating the Tibetan ritual of creating a mandala, an exquisite and colorful sand drawing. The project attracted observers from campus and members of the public from miles around. [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]

Five students stand around a table on level three of the new Case Library and Geyer Center for Information Technology. There's the sound of scraping while they watch two monks with shaved heads use rudimentary tools to draw hundreds of sacred symbols with colored grains of sand. "Wow," one student whispers. "How do they do it?"

Over several days, the monks created the circular mandala of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Once complete, the piece was swept away to signify the fleetingness of existence and the release of compassion for all living beings.

"I have seen a number of Tibetan Buddhist mandalas and know how entrancingly beautiful these examples of spiritual art are," said Joanne Schneider, university librarian. "So, when Vic Mansfield, who teaches Core Tibet, and Pian Shu and Julia Gooding, co-directors of the Buddhist Student Association, proposed that we invite the monks, I knew that it would be an authentically fascinating experience." Schneider, who oversees the library, majored in religious studies in the 1970s, taught Tibetan refugee monks English in India, and attended a teaching by the Dalai Lama. But it wasn't just her own interest that made Schneider happy to host this unique learning experience in Case-Geyer.

More views of the Ho Science Center and Case-Geyer

"New library and technology centers are acknowledging that learning is largely socially based and that learning takes place outside of the classroom and involves casual interaction between peers, students, and faculty," she said. "The new building is much more about human activity than storing materials. I like to think of it as a scholarly community center."

Across campus, in the physics lab in the new Robert H.N. Ho Science Center, Brendan Loughran, a junior physics major, is working on two research projects with fellow students and Beth Parks, associate professor of physics and astronomy. Their equipment is decidedly more high tech than the monks'. There's a terahertz spectrometer in the room — an instrument that measures the properties of materials at very high frequencies — and talk of lasers and radiation. Loughran's first project is to detect properties of crystals by emitting radiation through a sample. His second project, a collaboration with a research group at Cornell University, will determine the resonant frequency of a carbon nanotube, a tiny structure that is able to conduct electricity, and about which there's much speculation that it could replace wires or other components in electrical devices.

"It's exciting," Loughran said of his work. "I'm gaining experience about what physics research is like in the `real' world. And the new science building affords us more space, where we can bring in new equipment to move on to even more sophisticated projects. It opens up possibilities for future research."

Loughran's assessment hits the nail on the head. With the dedication of the new library and science center in 2007 — Colgate's two largest investments in infrastructure ever — the possibilities for students and faculty have expanded exponentially. Robert H.N. Ho '56, who gave $27 million to support the science center, said at the building's opening, "... the real gift, the most enduring gift, is the use to which the faculty and students of Colgate will put this new building."

It is a gift that faculty and students in both buildings are enthusiastically embracing.

Brendan Loughran '09 and a postdoctoral fellow work with physics professor Beth Parks in her new lab in the Ho Science Center.

In the GIS (geographic information system) lab in the Ho Science Center, senior John Demler, a geography major, is updating maps for a Hamilton "walk book," a 1970s tome outlining nine walks and two canoe routes in Hamilton, N.Y. "A few years ago, a friend of mine did some work updating the text, and I noticed that the maps needed updating," Demler said. He proposed an independent study working mostly with Adam Burnett, professor of geography, to modernize and ensure the accuracy of the maps.

"It's interesting to look at the landscape change," Demler said. "A lot of the views the walk book talks about aren't actually there anymore."

Demler is working with the English department to complete the book. This collaboration with a department outside the sciences doesn't surprise Burnett. GIS is a form of spatial analysis that Burnett said is useful for a variety of other disciplines. The new, larger GIS lab accommodates more students, and as they use the GIS equipment, "students begin to see the interdisciplinary applications," Burnett said. "There are a lot of interesting connections I think this building can make."

Take, for example, Rich April, Dunham Beldon Jr. Professor of geology. Next door to his office is Kristine Hopfensperger, a biogeochemist who is part of the Environmental Studies Program. "Kristy and I talk about science and teaching, and the building was designed for these kinds of encounters — faculty from different disciplines meet and may find they have something in common, which may lead to an idea, which may eventually lead to a collaborative research project," April said.

With 121,200 gross square feet housing environmental studies, geography, geology, part of biology, and the physics and astronomy departments and programs, the Ho Science Center is a stone and glass model of interdisciplinarity. The center is also home to the Harvey Picker Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Sciences and Mathematics, which was endowed by Harvey Picker '36, a trustee emeritus. The institute's mission is to foster the creation of new knowledge that is obtainable only through collaboration among faculty and students from disparate disciplines, because, as Picker said, "No one science will get you where you need to go in the outside world."

And while interdisciplinarity is a relatively new trend in higher education, for Colgate, it's been a long-standing tradition — faculty members have always pushed students to explore a variety of fields. "There are so many emerging questions in science, and it's hard for a single researcher in a single discipline to address them effectively," said Damhnait McHugh, G. Kirk Raab '59 Associate Professor of biology and member of the building committee. "An interdisciplinary approach to problem solving is going to serve people well no matter what they're doing." McHugh said she is particularly proud because, over the planning process, "we've come to a place where we've recognized interdisciplinarity as the way forward. And what will happen is you'll have people in their daily exchanges conversing with people who look at the world from different perspectives, who ask questions in different ways."

Perhaps that's why the building committee chose to inscribe a question from Johannes Kepler, a 17th-century German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer, on a plaque by one of the science center's main doors: "Why are things as they are and not otherwise?"

"We want our students to be asking those questions," McHugh said.

Music major Chris Beaver '08 has used the state-of-the-art audio and video studios in Case-Geyer to record campus a cappella groups like the Swinging 'Gates.

New ways of learning
Type in "For Teaching Not Testing," at and you will find a video of Colgate students in education professor Barbara Regenspan's fall term Education 101 class rhyming about the social inequalities that characterize contemporary public education. The class, with assistance from junior Robert Keo, recorded the poetry in the new video studio in Case-Geyer.

High-stakes testing and the current climate of excessive focus on standarizing curricula has exacerbated these inequalities, Regenspan said, because students in lower socioeconomic districts are getting test preparation while wealthier districts will continue to fund a curriculum rich in challenging literature, art, science lab experience, and music.

"In all but exceptional cases, when kids from poor families leave school, either as a result of graduation or dropping out, they typically end up with marginal wages or no job, while affluent students typically end up also replicating the class status of their families after graduating," Regenspan said.

The previous semester, Regenspan's students wrote poetry in response to the course text, High Stakes: Poverty, Testing, and Failure in American Schools. The resulting video, "SOS Redbud," was also posted on YouTube.

Regenspan's class and use of the Case-Geyer studio is exactly the type of participatory learning that John Seely Brown, former chief scientist at Xerox and a renowned research scientist who has written extensively about learning, digital culture, and globalization, discussed at the dedication ceremony of the new $57.5 million building in October. A gift from Helen Geyer, widow of William '42, named the Geyer Center for Information Technology.

"Life in the digital age is a culture of participation," Brown said. He noted the importance of collaborative creativity in the participatory media environment now known as web 2.0, and emphasized that real learning happens on a campus in study groups, with students working in a social, collaborative way.

Anecdotal evidence on campus supports Seely's ideas. In its five floors, Case-Geyer houses, in addition to its café, electronic classrooms, and faculty carrels, a multitude of group study rooms. "Those help a lot when we do homework," said junior Dipto Kar, a physics and math major. "But sometimes it's hard to get them, because they're usually full."

The new library employs the theory of brain-based learning — an idea that takes into account the structure and function of the brain to encourage learning — in its design. Common areas link indoor and outdoor places, and artwork provides a stimulating study environment. Rooms such as the Cronin Learning Lab and the flexible workroom have been designed so that there's no single "front" to the space, and they have easily moveable furniture to support group collaboration. There are 24-hour-access study areas, physical books on shelves, and digital books on computers. Comfortable furniture is distributed throughout each floor.

"Cicero once said that to add a library to a house is to give that house a soul," said Colgate President Rebecca S. Chopp at the dedication. "To a humanist like me, a library-information center is the soul of the college. It is a sacred space that is a tribute to knowledge, a place of hard work and intellectual play, a laboratory of ideas, a gathering place for conversation, a temple, if you will, for contemplation and daydreaming."

With that in mind, "this library takes into consideration not what's possible, but what's preferred," Schneider said. "We were very conscious of making it a people-centered rather than collection-centered space."

Hassan Mohamed '10 has been sequencing DNA for gene fragments cloned from diverse animals with biology professor Damhnait McHugh in her lab in the Ho Science Center.

The technology
Chris Beaver, a senior music major and film and media studies minor, is thrilled with the new audio and video studios in Case-Geyer, where he just started recording the latest Swinging 'Gates' album. He has also recorded the Resolutions and Colgate Thirteen.

"It's an amazing facility," Beaver said. He should know. The California native has experience working in recording studios with the likes of Sting, Lenny Kravitz, and Santana while in high school and during college breaks. Case-Geyer's studios have "Top-of-the-line computers, hardware, software, and microphones. It's opened up a lot of options for anyone who's interested in audio or video on campus," he remarked.

Senior Mila Adamova, an economics and Spanish major, uses the Case-Geyer video studio on a regular basis. She produces a show called 'Gate Update, a weekly program created by seven students that highlights campus events, 'Gate Update is available on the Colgate website.

"The studios are definitely cutting edge," said Ray Nardelli, manager of digital media. "We had this amazing opportunity to have this equipment because we were building this building."

The video and recording studios are just a part of the technology that permeates Case-Geyer. Computerized classrooms, digital media workrooms, and, of course, computers are threaded throughout. Previously, the library held approximately 80 computer workstations; Case-Geyer now has 180. The LASR, a robotic storage and retrieval mechanism, stores about 500,000 books and retrieves one in minutes upon request. Approximately 70 library and technology educational experts staff the building. Previously, the Information Technology Services (ITS) staff was spread out over campus, making collaboration and communication difficult.

"Somebody asked me, why should ITS and the library share a building," said David Gregory, chief information technology officer. "That's actually a trend that occurred in liberal arts higher education right around the turn of the century. Technologists and librarians were working together and realized that the library was becoming much more technology oriented. And where we collaborate mostly is on how we support students."

The IT staff in Case-Geyer include academic technologists, web developers, and security specialists. The fifth-floor service desk is staffed by both IT and library personnel, as well as student workers. "The idea is to provide hybrid support for faculty and student projects that require both an IT person and a library person," said Dave Baird, academic technologies director.

The network operations center is on the first floor. Three airplane-sized air conditioners cool more than 130 servers that host important data including campuswide e-mail, department shared files, student records, and financial software. "It's an incredible amount of technology that most of the campus doesn't even realize is there," Gregory said.

Although Gregory and his staff are headquartered in Case-Geyer, the team supports technology campuswide and was instrumental in planning the new technology at the Ho Science Center. Baird and his staff designed and oversaw installation, creating a new standard for the technology-enhanced classroom. Laptops, stand-alone computers, VHS and DVD players, screens, speakers, and lights are all easily managed by a single console in each room.

The technology pi8fce de résistance, most on campus would agree, is the forthcoming visualization lab in the Ho Science Center. Resembling a planetarium-type room, it has a projector that uses lasers rather than a lamp, and comes with the Digistar-3 software that renders real-time 3D graphics to project onto a 34-foot dome.

"No other liberal arts college has anything that gets close to the capabilities of the vis lab," said Kiko Galvez, professor of physics and astronomy. "There are only four laser projectors, and about one hundred Digistar-3 systems with lamp projectors, worldwide."

The vis lab will have a tremendous impact on the Colgate astronomy program, and has uses in almost any discipline, from art to biology. "Besides classes, we also see outreach as an important component," Galvez said. As a medium similar to an IMAX theater, he explained, "the vis lab allows Colgate to offer astronomical and other educational shows to school groups."

Students consult with geography professor Adam Burnett in the GIS (geographic information system) lab in the Ho Science Center.

One-of-a-kind buildings
It's not only the visualization lab that makes the Ho Science Center exceptional in the world of science and education. Colgate's concept of interdisciplinarity sets it apart from other educational institutions, said Mark McElroy, vice president of Barr and Barr, the construction management firm working on the center (some spaces in the building are not yet fully complete). If one were to visit other campus science centers, he said, "that would be the first thing that jumps out as a difference. There's a lot more interconnectedness... Colgate has different departments on every floor."

With its 40 research labs, 45 faculty offices, 13 teaching labs, seven classrooms, geology museum, and 90-seat auditorium, the Ho Science Center is a space on par with major research institutions. "It's definitely a major research facility," said Frank Frey, assistant professor of biology. Frey, who studies how variation in plant sex affects the evolution of floral traits, is looking forward to the completion of the center's greenhouse, expected in early 2008. "The kinds of things I do require me to grow hundreds of plants at once," he said. "I couldn't do the science that I want to do with the students without these greenhouse spaces."

Bob Turner, professor of economics and Environmental Studies Program director, is thrilled for one very important reason. "We now have physical space for the program," he said. Interdisciplinary by nature, environmental studies — designed to enhance students' awareness of the seriousness and complexity of regional and global environmental problems and to underscore the impact of humans on the Earth — was a natural inclusion in the center. In addition to offices, a resource room, and space for postdoctoral work, the center provides common teaching spaces for most environmental studies classes.

For April, a geologist who will soon begin a new research project on "the critical zone," which includes the Earth's soil and the vegetation that lives on it, the facility is also affording new opportunities. "My research lab is designed precisely for what I need," he said. "It's state-of-the-art, and it's also vibration-free, which was a problem back in the old building." In fact, April plans to invite colleagues from places such as Penn State and Stanford University with whom he will be doing research to visit the new center. "I want to show them what liberal arts colleges are, and can do, with regard to important, fundamental research."

It's not just the science center that stands out in the world of higher ed. "The learning spaces we have here, particularly the Cronin Learning Lab — very few libraries have that," Schneider said of Case-Geyer. "And in the coming months, we will have people visit us from Princeton and Cornell to look at LASR as a model for storing and providing space." Case-Geyer also opened with at least two areas of unprogrammed space — with no predetermined use to provide flexibility for the future — something important that is incorporated into few new library projects.

"This building was built on the principle that if we listen to our students and our faculty, we will be successful," Schneider said. "We have listened, and I think we have been successful, and the key is to keep listening."

Across campus, April echoes a similar feeling about the new science center. "The wonderful thing is that the faculty were involved in the design process from the very start." It was Charlie McClennen, the longtime Colgate geology professor who had shepherded the project since 2002 and who passed away in 2006, who played a significant role in garnering that faculty input, April added. "He will always be remembered as the person who led the charge for building the Ho Science Center."

David Gregory, chief information technology officer, and Joanne Schneider, university librarian, in their departments' new home, Case-Geyer

Looking to the future
With graduation approaching, Beaver is weighing his career options. He's hoping to find record label work, but hasn't made any permanent decisions about his path. But after taking the lead on producing albums for some of Colgate's a cappella groups, he's gained confidence. "As I look out on the future, I can say, OK, I can do this, I can manage a project from start to finish," he said.

That type of learning and preparation through participation and collaboration is an integral part of the mission of Colgate's two new buildings. In her address to the audience at the dedication of the Ho Science Center, President Chopp said that "As educators, it is our task to ensure knowledge for the future... To produce the next generation of leaders, we must educate students to think in new ways."

That's why a new library and technology building has always been one of the first objectives in Colgate's strategic plan, Schneider said. "Case-Geyer emphasizes the role of scholarly pursuit. It says we are serious about academics and knowledge. It makes a statement in bricks and mortar."

The same can be said of the Ho Science Center, and there's certainly a feeling of anticipation about the new building and what can be done there, McHugh said. "I think that we're going to attract more and more students who are interested in science to Colgate."

As well as bringing more students, April said he hopes the impressive facility will secure a competitive advantage in attracting outside funding for student and faculty research. Both buildings, he added, will "attract the best and brightest faculty to campus. Because if you take a prospective faculty member on a tour, I'm sure he or she couldn't help but think that this would be a great place to work," he said.

"How could they not?" he asked. "Colgate has always been beautiful, it remains beautiful, and the facilities now are just absolutely extraordinary."

— Wilson is a former associate editor at Colgate.
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