Future University of Wisconsin-Madison students may have an easier time registering for introductory chemistry courses and be able to conduct more experiments in new lab facilities if building project plans receive additional funding from the UW System.
The UW System Board of Regents approved the 2013-15 Biennial Capital Budget in their August meeting, but it remains subject to further approval by Gov. Scott Walker and the state legislature.
According to Regent Katherine Pointer, the student representative on the Board, the project focuses on correcting a current lack of general chemistry lab space, which prohibits the university from offering more courses.
Pointer said the extra chemistry building could especially benefit general chemistry classes such as Chemistry 103 and 104, which are the two courses with the highest enrollment during the fall and spring semesters.
The courses currently lack sufficient lab space to accommodate the number of students who wish to enroll, according to Pointer.
Pointer said while the $103.5 million project focuses on increasing lab space, it would also provide additional offices, classrooms and lecture halls.
UW-Madison Chemistry professor Fleming Crim said the building is severely out-of-date and has needed improvments for more than a decade.
Crim said lecture halls in the chemistry building “are like something out of Dickens” and it is challenging to teach 21st century chemistry in a building constructed in 1967.
“The laboratories were built at a time when the way you taught chemistry was more like going and ‘turning the crank’,” Crim said. “Now [teaching] is a lot more interactive with people working together, and you want people involved with each other and with teaching assistants.”
According to Crim, the physical layout of the labs is inadequate due to insufficient air circulation throughout the labs, which prevents students and professors from conducting most experiments involving hazardous materials.
“We want to get these [facilities] up to the standards we think we should have at the University of Wisconsin,” Crim said.
Biomedical Engineering student Mike Stitgen, who has taken a total of five chemistry courses, said while he never felt like his lectures, discussions or labs were cramped, he does believe there is room for improvement.
Still, Stitgen said he thinks there are other campus buildings that are more deserving of an upgrade.
Pointer said as a student she is looking forward to the improvements that come with new campus instructional facilities.
“Not only does it help students in terms of scheduling classes, but also it broadens the capabilites for students to learn, to experiment,” Pointer said. “To be in these top notch facilties is a huge advantage and is really great for UW-Madison because that’s part of who we are.”
An agricultural sciences facility project costing a total of $19.4 million was also approved in the budget.