CLARKSVILLE -- The University of the Ozarks will celebrate the single-largest capital construction project in its history this week.
The Presbyterian Church-affiliated university will host a dedication for its new Thomas and Frances Wilson Science Center at 4 p.m. Friday .
Larry Isch, director of public relations for the university, said the first classes in the $18.4 million facility are scheduled to be held Feb. 7.
The center will house the university's natural and health science programs, including biology, environmental sciences, chemistry, health sciences, physics and psychology, according to the university's website. University officials say it contains state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories and dedicated research areas.
"It will allow us to not only serve the students we have, but it will allow us to grow in the sciences field," said Richard Dunsworth, university president.
School officials believe in light of the current student population and demand for science-related fields that students will chose University of the Ozarks, "especially if they're looking for small, faith-based, exceptional education in the River Valley," Dunsworth said.
Construction of the science center began in January 2021. It involved completely renovating the previous 29,000-square-foot facility and adding 18,000 square feet on the west side. The original structure, which used to be called the Smith-Broyles Science Center, was built in 1969.
Dunsworth said officials knew the spaces used for natural and health science programs were "dated." They knew the existing science center needed to be refreshed and have more space, specifically as it related to labs, to help ensure students were being served and prepared to be competitive after graduation.
"It's taking theory and putting it in practice," Dunsworth said. "What this space will allow, and what the building will allow, is our students working side-by-side with faculty to do more undergraduate research."
Dunsworth said doing more undergraduate research better prepares students for things such as getting admitted to medical school or physical or occupational therapy graduate programs because it allows them to test what they've learned in the classroom in a laboratory environment.
Befrika Murdianti , an associate professor of chemistry, said her students will benefit from being able to conduct experiments related to class discussions in the new center's improved lab spaces. This includes separate labs designated for research and preparation.
Murdianti also expressed hope the new center will allow programs to collaborate with one another.
Frank Knight, professor of biology at the university, teaches three courses this semester: vertebrate diversity and evolution, field ecology and biology capstone. Knight said the Smith-Broyles Science Center didn't have any dedicated research areas. This meant research projects by students and faculty over an extended period had to be done in a teaching laboratory, which required projects to be put away and retrieved again to accommodate both activities.
"But now we have two research rooms where students and faculty can work on projects without competing with classes using the teaching laboratories," Knight said.
The facility will also have space for new equipment that will come with it, he said.
The Springdale-based Kinco Constructors is the general contractor for the construction project, according to Dunsworth. The project was entirely paid for through a university fundraiser, "Climb Higher: A Campaign for Students."
The campaign ran from July 2014 to April 2021 with an initial goal of $55 million. It ended up bringing in $73.1 million to go toward scholarships, academic programs and campus facilities. The Wilson Science Center project was one of its major initiatives.
Lori McBee, the university's vice president for advancement and alumni engagement, said Thomas and Frances Wilson were friends of the university and Frances Wilson donated more than $7 million to the project.
Dunsworth said the university raised an additional $4 million for its permanent endowment to help maintain the new center in perpetuity.
Anyone interested in attending Friday's dedication is asked to RSVP to [email protected], according to the university. The university will also livestream the event via its Facebook page.
Fall 2021 Enrollment
The University of the Ozarks had a fall enrollment of 784, with 327 students with majors in one of the programs in the university’s Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division.
Source: University of the Ozarks