From the President

You’ve probably noticed that recent issues of this magazine have paid a lot of attention to the sciences at Nebraska Wesleyan. That’s the case again with this issue. Why?

The best liberal arts institutions lead with strong programs in the sciences. That’s true in part because many of the best high school students show the strength of their intellectual development first of all through their achievements in the sciences and mathematics (and in some cases in music or languages, where ability correlates strongly with mathematical aptitude).

The best liberal arts institutions also work hard to keep up to date with the rapid pace of innovation in the sciences. Think of all that’s changed about science and technology since Olin Hall opened in 1968. Here are some examples:

  • 1969 battery-operated smoke detectors
  • 1973 gene splicing
  • 1978 test tube baby
  • 1979 cell phone
  • 1980 hepatitis B vaccine
  • 1981 personal computer (PC)
  • 1990 Internet
  • 1996 animal cloned, Dolly
  • 2003 gas/electric hybrid car
  • 2005 YouTube
  • 2008 retail sale of DNA kits

As the sciences have changed, the faculty and staff of Nebraska Wesleyan have made heroic efforts to adapt and accommodate in order to stay current. I asked some of our senior professors to describe changes they’ve seen, just in uses of space, in Olin Hall during the past four decades. Here are some of the ways space has been adapted or accommodated to keep on top of modern science:

  • Animal room changed to very small research laboratory
  • Chemistry lab to classroom
  • Chemistry non-majors lab to forensic science lab
  • Classroom to office
  • Faculty research lab to offices and break room
  • Microscope labs (4) to wet labs
  • Nuclear measurement lab to informal study space
  • Part-time instructors’ office to very small research lab
  • Physics calculation room to faculty office
  • Science library to Mac computer lab
  • Storeroom to nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) lab
  • Storeroom to botanical research lab
  • Storeroom to atomic collision physics lab
  • Storerooms (3) to faculty offices

Sometimes the former uses of space were less critical and the loss was minimal, but in other cases two strong needs competed. Something important was gained, yet something else important was lost.

There are limits, after all, to how much can be achieved by adaptations in a building designed before so much of the technology that we take for granted in our world was even imagined. That’s just as true of the technology that science professors and students use in their teaching and learning as any other kind. Just to give two examples, computer simulations are used extensively in physics today, and three-dimensional computer-generated models of molecules are common learning aids now in chemistry.

Then there are Nebraska Wesleyan’s changes over four decades, which include:

  • Growth from 1,100 traditional undergraduates in the early 1970s to more than 1,500 today
  • Addition of four master’s degrees since 2000
  • Dramatic increase in student and faculty expectations for hands-on learning
  • Expectation that classrooms will be “smart,” electronically equipped
  • Need for highly adaptable laboratory spaces
  • Reduction of the once sharp division between lecture and lab sessions

In light of so much that’s changed and will change, in May 2011 the Nebraska Wesleyan University Board of Governors asked all of us on campus to move forward boldly with plans for what we must do to sustain excellence over the long-term in our science learning and teaching.

With Nebraska Wesleyan’s vision in mind, to be “an outstanding national liberal arts university,” our next steps in the sciences will have great importance for a future with sustained excellence.

I invite you to share in our excitement about this planning and what’ll follow from it. I’ll keep you posted as the project takes shape.

Yours truly,

Frederik Ohles, President