By Brianna Kurzynowski | firstname.lastname@example.org
Fundraising for a new science building at Flagler College should be a top priority, according to the college’s 2016-2021 strategic plan.
Such a building would make the college more attractive to students interested in so-called STEM fields, which science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the plan said.
A new science building would also bolster the college’s fast-growing Coastal Environmental Science major.
“Given the rapid growth of a new major in Coastal Environmental Science,” the plan stated, “the desirability of the College developing majors in Biology, Science Education, and perhaps other STEM fields, and the science requirements of certain majors (Criminology, Psychology, and Education), it is imperative that Flagler raise funds for the construction of a new science building that will meet current and anticipated needs. Fundraising for a science building must be our highest fundraising priority.”
Terri Seron, chair of the college’s Natural Sciences Department, said she welcomes a new building.
“The problem with that is we only have two labs and limited faculty,” Seron said. “Because of this we can only allow 40 majors into the program each year.”
In 2015, the St. Augustine Record quoted Flagler College President William Abare Jr. as saying that no location for a new science building had been chosen.
Abare said the science building proposal was included in the 2014-18 Flagler College Campus Master Plan.
“There isn’t anything in this plan of 2014 to 2018 that calls for us taking over downtown St. Augustine,” Abare told the Record. “Any development that we have identified is property we currently own — nothing new and no additional acquisitions of property.”
The college’s science program has grown dramatically in recent years.
When Seron joined Flagler, she was only the second full-time faculty member in the Natural Sciences Department.
At that time, the department only had an environmental science minor and about 30 students. The science program was not its own department yet. It was a part of the Math and Technology Department. The other full-time faculty member was Barbara Blonder and there were also three adjuncts.
Nine years later, Flagler still has the minor, but added a Coastal Environmental Science major in 2013. At that time, professors Matthew Brown and Ed McGinley were hired.
Seron said she has worked at Flagler since 2007 and has been department chair since 2010. She said a new science building would also include additional research space and more science labs.
She said the Coastal Environmental Science is the most competitive major at Flagler. A new science building would allow more students to be admitted into the major.
Seron, other science professors and students are all excited about the prospects of a new building.
“Students are excited for the change, but know it will not happen while they are still here,” she said.
Professor Jessica Veenstra, a soil scientist who teaches earth science and geology, agrees with Seron. “It is an exciting time at Flagler. It is fun to see the program grow,” Veenstra said. “A building or new labs are both good changes.”
Veenstra is in her sixth year at Flagler. When she first started she noticed a limited interested in science. “It is exciting to see the climate change of students being resistant at first but now see it as fun,” she said.
Amanda Aydlett, a sophomore and Coastal Environmental Science major, has heard about the proposed plans for the building and agrees with the professors that it is a good idea.
Seron is uncertain about exactly how much space will be needed or how long the process will take to get the building started. The department is working alongside the college and a consultant.
“They are shepherding us through this process,” she said.
Along with figuring out the finer details of the proposed building, Seron and others in the department have been going to different colleges and universities to get ideas for the building.
With the new bigger building and possibly bringing on more staff, Seron said she hopes the camaraderie among faculty doesn’t change.
“We don’t want to change the close relationships with the team,” Seron said.
“At the bigger schools they can have up to 20 different sciences within the department and sometimes you do not know your own colleagues, but here we have a small, great team which has benefits for working together and the students know this,” Veenstra said.
A perk that the students now have is being able to learn about different science disciplines. “While we are all involved in environmental science, our professors all have different backgrounds, Seron said. She explained this is a benefit for the students because this way they are able to see which discipline fits them best.
Both the major and minor require selected classes plus a research element.
“Research space will also be needed in the new building,” Seron said. Current and past students are working on research projects, receiving awards and undergraduate grants, presenting at symposiums and being published in graduated journals every semester.
“Some people do not realize how much goes into going out and doing the research,” Aydlett said. She has worked with McGinley on some research projects.
“While some may see the major challenging because the students are pushed, I would hope students will see it as a rewarding program and feel accomplished in the end,” Veenstra said.
The Natural Sciences Department has had graduates go onto graduate school for research work as well as working for environmental consultant firms full-time.
Aydlett is prepared for post-graduation. “My advisor, Professor McGinley, sends work opportunities through email regularly,” she said.
Seron said because science majors graduate with a bachelor’s in arts, one thing not everyone may know about the science department, is that “someone interested in science but not wanting to be a scientist” has plenty of areas to choose from besides the typical one.
“Science is interesting and fun… majors can also go down the paths of teaching, art or journalism,” she said.
As part of the proposed expansion, Seron spoke about adding a biology-focused track, which would require more classroom space and labs.
Aydlett wishes the department offered more classes and more research opportunities. “We are required to take certain courses and they are offered at the same time, which makes it hard to sign up for them,” she said.
A new science building would likely improve the situation. Seron said she expects the college to hire more faculty and offer more research labs allowing more students to register for courses.
Asked when the science building will be done, Seron said:
“I would love to say five years.”