By Donovan Ortiz:
A new lab facility and new degrees and certificates are growing on Amarillo College’s Washington Street Campus. Construction of the 12,000 square foot greenhouse lab facility started Oct. 9 in the parking lot behind the science lab building and across the street from the Amarillo Museum of Art. Funded through a U.S. Department of Education Hispanic Serving Institution STEM grant of $5 million, the new lab is scheduled be completed by fall semester of 2018.
The building will be equipped with two labs, lab prep, four greenhouse bays and an aquaponics water system, which will recycle water. The facility will be used for teaching classes that lead to new certificates and degrees in horticulture, biochemistry, bioengineering and other STEM, (science, technology, engineering and math) related fields.
“Students limit themselves because they only think of careers that they have heard about… nursing, teaching, doctors, attorneys. Our new certificate and degree plans will give students more choices,” Dr. Claudie Biggers, chair of the biology department, said. “The whole idea to offer new certificates in STEM was to attract students who are intimidated by academics. Our hope is that their confidence will grow when they complete a one or two semester certificate inspiring them to continue on a path towards a degree.”
Finding a location for the new facility meant giving up some parking on the Washington Street Campus. In an email to all students and employees, Jim Baca, the director of physical plant, wrote, “Part of parking Lot #7 will be blocked off to allow for the new construction site, we sincerely apologize for any inconveniences this may cause.”
Students said the loss of parking is an unfortunate consequence of the new building. “I think it is a great thing to bring more diverse degrees and certificates,” Kelcie Kuehler, a nursing major, said. “Losing a parking lot, however, is a downfall. I already have significant trouble finding a parking spot as it is, so losing a parking lot is going to put me in a bind before class.”
“The bad part of this is that parking, already being a problem, will get worse, but in the end it should be worth it for biology majors,” Manuel Grado, a business administration major, said. “I feel the greenhouse will be useful for the school, students and classes,” he added
Some of the biology department’s new classes will be available for the spring semester of 2018 with the majority starting in the fall semester of 2018 when the greenhouse is completed. Biggers said the new offerings will provide students with more opportunities for hands-on work and career success.
The biology department has also received a $600,000 five-year grant from the National Science Foundation that will provide scholarships and research opportunities for students in STEM majors. Every semester, students who are STEM majors can apply for the scholarship award and are eligible to receive up to $4000 per semester. Recipients can receive the scholarship up to four times.
Students who receive NSF scholarships will be able to participate in drone research that will include weekend opportunities where students and faculty will collect data and prepare a symposium to present to the biology students.