Groundbreaking Celebrates Success and Potential in Science

April 29, 2011

For those who know science at Mary Baldwin University, the ceremonial groundbreaking for the renovation of Pearce Science Center heralded the start of a project that promises to elevate an already exceptional program.

April 28 ceremony

Members of the Board of Trustees joined local elected officials, administrators, faculty, staff, and students in front of Pearce on April 28 to celebrate the start of the multiyear, multiphase overhaul with remarks and the symbolic turning of soil.

The message from those who addressed the crowd was clear: by dramatically improving research facilities, the renovation promises to transform science education at Mary Baldwin. But the success incubated inside the four-story building — measured by the achievements of its graduates and the meaningful collaborative research between faculty and students — is evidence that Mary Baldwin already produces exceptional young, female scientists.

April Lao is one of them. The ability to collaborate closely with her professors on cancer research helped the senior biology major earn a first-place award earlier this month at one of the largest international conferences on experimental biology. She will graduate next month at age 19, armed with research experience that rivals that of some PhD candidates and knowledge that will serve her well in medical school.

“None of this would have been possible without the wonderful professors here,” Lao told those gathered outside Pearce. “Without frequent meetings with Dr. [Paul] Deeble [associate professor of biology], I would have been lost in stacks of journal articles and protocols. How many students can say they received that kind of personal attention during college? The professors here want us to succeed; they take us and our ideas seriously and will go above and beyond to help us.”

student with congressman (Lao is pictured at right, shaking hands with U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte at the April 28 ceremony.)

Deeble said Mary Baldwin’s interdisciplinary approach utilizing research as a primary learning tool was validated by one of the most prestigious granting agencies in the world — the National Science Foundation (NSF) — which provided a $1.2 million grant to help fund Pearce construction, which officially begins in June.

“The NSF recognized what the Mary Baldwin community has known for many years,” Deeble said. “We expect our students to learn by doing, to formalize their curiosity through research. The learning outcomes that are achieved by this process provide the highest impact training experience.”

The first phase of renovations — which will add an Environmental Systems Research Lab, a new mammalian vivarium, an imaging suite with electron microscopes, a senior research space, a new classroom, and a new entrance to the building — is expected to wrap up by the end of 2011.