While other St. Ambrose students returned in August eager for a look at the brand new building on the north end of campus, junior engineering major Katelyn Schroeder made a beeline to the third floor of Hayes Hall.
Waiting there were three spacious new labs, each equipped with the latest technological innovations.
"This is exciting to me," Schroeder said as she surveyed the new Prototyping Lab (aka, the Maker Space), that is flanked by the Mechanical Engineering Lab and a Design Center where the students themselves are engineering final touches. "I spend so much time up here. I study here. I use the equipment. The Wellness and Recreation Center is great, but this is definitely more exciting for me."
'At bigger schools, students can't always get hands-on experience. Here they can, and they'll have the space to do it. It's really a show stopper.'
Junior Katelyn Schroeder
"It really adds to the experience," said Andrea Bonetto, a double-major senior who is using the new labs for her final-year research projects. "I get to experience more equipment, teach others how to use it and get more involved. With more space, the projects get bigger."
The third-floor labs aren't the only enhancements. New, too, are a Hydrology Lab and a Collaborative Learning Classroom Lab on the second floor of Hayes. There also is a first-floor computer lab that features the latest engineering software and provides 24/7 access for students enrolled in department programs. In the Galvin Fine Arts Center is a fully equipped machine shop for fabrication projects.
The new equipment was purchased with the assistance of a $40,000 grant from the Arconic (formerly known as ALCOA) Foundation, and some of the $500,000 grant awarded by the John Deere Foundation to advance University STEM initiatives.
The changes are part of a banner year for the department. In September, the Industrial Engineering program was reaccredited and the Mechanical Engineering program received initial accreditation by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology.
Enrollment in the department has grown by more than 100 students over the past decade and the faculty has grown from three to eight. As a student ambassador with the SAU Admissions Department, Schroeder already has seen signs that the new facilities will promote further growth.
"Potential students come in here and they're amazed," she said. "And then I tell them they can actually get their hands on the equipment, which is a real bonus. At bigger schools, students can't always get hands-on experience. Here they can, and they'll have the space to do it. It's really a show stopper."