By Tiffeny Owens
The Cullman Times
When Wallace State Community College nursing and biology students begin classes next spring semester, they may be a bit distracted by the technological marvel that is a new $25 million, state-of-the-art academic building.
Construction on the 125,000-square-foot new nursing and biology building, situated on the northern end of the campus, is slated to wrap up by the end of November in time for spring classes to start Jan. 7. Doster Construction in Birmingham began work on the 14-month project last fall, however it went slightly over schedule by two months.
The new building features a state-of-the-art simulation center for nursing students, two computer labs for all Wallace State students, a 500-seat auditorium and café for students and faculty. About 1,750 biology students and 600 nursing students will attend classes there.
“Our goal has been and will always be to provide the most exceptional learning environment,” said WSCC President Vicki Hawsey Karolewics. “Our community college students deserve no less. That’s why we’ve been undertaking renovations of our buildings and the new construction on the nursing and biology building.”
The facility will have nine biology classrooms, with 10 student lab stations each while the nursing program will have nine training rooms dedicated to various medical fields: four for hospitalization/ intensive care, two for pediatrics, two for obstetrics/ gynecology and one for trauma and emergency medicine. The building also has many nooks and spaces for students to congregate to discuss assignments or study quietly alone.
The building’s science-inspired design came as a surprise to biology department chair Fred Halstead, Ph.D.
“When the architect showed me the plans, I asked him ‘you know about chromosomes?’ because that’s what it was shaped like. I was hooked right then and there,” Halstead said.
He explained the biology department’s two wings form the shape of a chromatid with the center of the new building resembling a centromere, or center, of a chromosome.
When nursing students walk into the simulation center, they will be entering a realist hospital atmosphere that will prepare them for working in the real-world health care industry, said Deborah Hoover, nursing education department chair. The simulation center is equipped with video cameras and microphones to capture simulated medical situations that students participate in for training.
“We’re trying to make it as realist as possible to prepare them for a real medical setting,” Hoover said. “Afterwards, the students go through debriefing with the instructor, and in a lot of ways, that’s where the real learning takes places because they review what they did well and what they need to work on.”
The simulation center includes realist-looking body fluids for students to overcome any fears and hesitance. Part of the simulation also incorporates actors who will pretend to be patients’ family members so nurses can sharpen their communication skills and learn how to manage upset and worried relatives, Hoover said.
“We’re trying to create a experience-rich environment so students are not only exposed to standard scenarios but the more-intense ones too,” Hoover said.
The new building will also free up space in the buildings nursing and biology classes have been held. The English department will be consolidated into one vacated building and social sciences in another. Both programs had been spread across the campus. Biology classes have been divided among two buildings, with some classes taking place in a converted auto body shop building, Halstead said. Nursing students have attended classes all over campus too, Hoover said.
“With the new building, we’ll be able to concentrate the disciplines and keep the students together,” Hawsey Karolewics said.
Hoover and Halstead, both longtime educators at Wallace State, have witnessed the changes in how students learn, most recently with the transition to using computers and other technology.
“I’ve been here for 20 years, and it’s been amazing to see the drastic transformation of our campus,” Hoover said. “Our students love the technology we’ve implemented, like computer testing and lectures that they can go back to and listen online. I would put our college up against any in the country for our use of technology.”
* Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.