By RANGER STAFF
Opportunities are growing at Amarillo College thanks to the new STEM Research Center on the Washington Street Campus. The college hosted an open house and dedication ceremony for the facility Tuesday, Sept. 27. Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, AC president, welcomed the large crowd gathered to tour the building.
“I’ll be brief,” Lowery-Hart said, “as the star of the show is across the street.” Pointing out that the Center features cutting-edge equipment, such as a photosynthesis analyzer, root imaging systems and a full greenhouse, Lowery-Hart said, “The magic isn’t just in the technology. It’s in the opportunity it presents.”
The Center will improve workforce outcomes and help every student going into STEM related programs, Lowery-Hart said.
Greeted by Palace coffee and cookies, visitors toured the nearly 12,000 square foot building’s classrooms and labs. In one of the labs, the guests saw a photosynthesis analyzer, which scans plant leaves to determine what nutrients and oxygen they contain.
“It helps monitor carbon dioxide exchange within the leaves and the soil,” Gina Talley, a horticulture major, said. If the students determine that the plant needs more or less of a nutrient, they can add it right from the machine with a few touch-screen presses. They also can use the machine to determine what to plant in a certain climate to get the best results, Talley explained.
Another way students are using the analyzer is to study soil obtained by NASA from a Hawaiian island with soil similar in consistency to that of Mars. “Right now we’re studying Earth’s soil and Mars’ soil so that hopefully one day people can grow plants on Mars,” Talley said.
The visitors then moved on to the greenhouses, where students are experimenting with how specialized colored lights affect plant growth. “Specific colors help with the growth of a plant and they have different colors for different things,” Lexy Elizalde, a biology major, said. Officials say this will help students learn how to produce the best fruit and vegetables possible.
“The greenhouse will allow us to grow food, which we could give away to students,” Lowery-Hart said.
The open house attendees had many positive comments about the new facility. “This is exactly what this town needs. This brings new classes and opportunities to this college and I’m excited to see what it brings,” Drake Janis, a community member, said.
Horticulture students can also take advantage of an articulation agreement between AC and Texas Tech that allows AC students to move directly into a Tech bachelor’s program in plant and soil science. “I wish we had programs for this when I was in school,” Frank Young, a Texas Tech alumni and Amarillo native, said.
The facility also offers opportunities for students in all science-related fields. “I hope that everyone who plans on taking the STEM classes takes advantage of this,” Jordan Bates, an education major, said.
The Stem Research Center grew from a $4.9 million Hispanic-Serving Institution-STEM grant that AC received in 2016 from the U.S. Department of Education. Along with the Center, AC started a new horticulture program this fall and the college is developing other programs in biotechnology, environmental science and sustainable resources.