March 1, 2022
Embracing the old at the new STEM Teaching and Learning Facility
Spartan Engineers at Michigan State University are sharing – and enjoying – the second life of MSU’s historic Shaw Lane Power Plant and its conversion to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Teaching and Learning Facility.
Decommissioned decades ago, the iconic 1948 building that once powered MSU’s vast campus was carefully and methodically stripped to prepare it for a seminal, years-long reinvention. Practical components from its past were skillfully repurposed – such as its four-story boiler that has study and lounge spaces built around it; benches and seats formed from unused steel materials and power plant machinery; and salvaged steam valves and machinery covers that now serve as art. (See Construction begins on 117,000 square foot building. MSU officially opens new STEM facility.)
The 21st-century classroom and laboratory spaces are specifically geared toward gateway courses in biological sciences, chemistry, computer science, engineering, and physics.
Students in the College of Engineering are utilizing the beautiful, contemporary building in multiple ways. Located adjacent to the Engineering Building across Shaw Lane and next door to Spartan Stadium, the new facility houses some of Engineering’s largest classes in two areas - computer science and engineering (CSE) and materials science and engineering (MSE).
Some Spartan Engineers go to the STEM building for classes and labs – and others simply want a cool place to study or relax. Around 1,200 seats of collaboration and study spaces are spread among the common areas for student use. And MSU’s newest eatery, The Workshop, adds another eating option in the neighborhood.
Aman Dhruva Thamminana, a junior dual computer science and math major, said the building’s atmosphere is unique. “I love the blend of modern architecture and the remains of the old power plant.”
Sophie Martin, a senior in computer science and an Undergraduate Learning Assistant for CSE 231, said the new building complements collaborative work.
“I like that there are a lot of whiteboards scattered around. We encourage our students to use the screens at their individual tables to work together on code, and it helps a lot with pair programming.
“The labs were built specifically to cater to the STEM majors,” she continued. “I think it’s great for current students, but future students will benefit from it for years to come.”
Richard Enbody, associate professor of computer science, relishes his new space for CSE 231. He said it’s his first MSU space built exclusively to be a lab in 35 years on campus.
“I can stand in one place and see all the students,” Enbody explained. “The new technology has lots of promise. So much, we’re just beginning to get a feel for it.
“We’ve used teams in labs for years. Now, we have shared wireless monitors to enhance collaboration. Not only can they work on a shared screen but they can also work on their own laptop, so it offers a comfortable environment.
“And finally, our nightly help room can be in the same lab. That is so nice for the students. There’s even a garage door so when we fill our space we can overflow into the atrium. It’s a gorgeous room with windows all around. Exciting!” he added.
Eric Harding, a senior in materials science and president of the Materials Science Society, said the new STEM building is an amazing resource.
“My failure analysis capstone class, MSE 466, is in one of the new labs. All of the equipment is in great shape, the labs are clean and organized, and there is a lot of natural light to keep things fresh. Plus, the labs offer plenty of counter space to use while working on our projects.
“The STEM building also offers us a great space to sit together, study, eat, or just hang out in the gaps between our classes,” he added.
Materials science teaching specialist Anne Eisenlohr said characterization and testing equipment is now nicely organized in the spacious new facility, instead of being spread around the Engineering Building.
“The equipment supports all the MSE lab classes (250, 331, 381, and 466). In particular MSE 250, a class required by many different engineering majors. It is scheduled there during most of the week.”
Student labs can now have teams of five for experiments, such as mechanical testing and microscopy/metallography.
“That fosters an understanding of the concepts learned in lectures,” she noted. “Next to the new lab space, there is a high-tech classroom where student groups can share a large monitor to discuss and analyze their data during class time. This helps clear up confusion that students previously had to discuss via email or class office hours.
“I think this setup will especially benefit students who struggle with this class,” she explained. “The barrier to ask a question is now a lot lower. We can intervene and help students who might need a little nudge to get their work started.”
Another gained benefit -- her close proximity to those who teach subjects that are the foundation of materials science and engineering, such as physics and chemistry.
“It’s my hope to meet some of the other specialists and instructors to better understand how students are learning in their courses and how we can tie those lessons into our curriculum. I think it’s a great opportunity to foster mutual learning and educational collaboration.”
Read more on the new building in MSUToday: Empowering the Future and First-of-its-kind timber products.