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Meyers Science Center Debuts Engineering Lab

“And most importantly, if there is a physical body, there is a spiritual body. This lab is going to strengthen your identity as a person of science and person of faith,” said Provost Margaret Diddams at Friday’s (Jan. 27) dedication ceremony for the new engineering lab. Diddams addressed a crowd of attentive students and faculty, encouraging them to view mistakes as “blessings” as they relate and create in the new space.
The lab, located on the basement floor of Meyer Science Center, now houses the Statics, Dynamics and Innovative Design classes taught by Assistant Professor of Engineering and Physics David Hsu, who joined the Wheaton community in 2016. “Dr. Hsu came at just the right time,” according to Associate Professor and of Physics and Department Chair Darren Craig, who, along with former Engineering Program Director and Professor of Engineering William Medcalf, had been involved with all phases of planning and production in the three-year building of the engineering lab. According to Craig, Hsu was essential in developing the aesthetic of the lab as he presented ideas derived from universities and workplaces across the country.
“There was a need for the space to be open and inviting for collaboration, flexible enough to reflect a culture of innovation and yet, serve as a functional work environment for rapid prototyping, effective communication and active learning,” said Hsu. The lab is built around the concept of “flexibility,” with no defined front or back to the classroom. The walls — currently covered in post-it notes, lists and sketches — are of whiteboard material to promote free thinking anywhere and everywhere. Partitioning walls present in the original plans were removed to further undefine the space. Additionally, all furniture is set on wheels to allow movement of tables and television screens, which professors will use in replacement of immobile projectors or chalkboards.
For Hsu, who considers himself an “over-controlling instructor,” this can be both “terrifying” — “especially when ping pong balls start flying across the room, and when I realize that some students know how to use the equipment better than I do,” he said — but also exhilarating, as he sees students beginning to create and try things that he would have never expected or planned on his own.
The students’ favorite part of the lab? For freshman mechanical engineering student Chester Schuchardt, it’s the 3D printers. After the dedication ceremony, Schuchardt stuck around to check on the progress of the gears he was printing. “This one will take four hours,” he said. “I also really want to print a rubik’s cube.”
Diddams closed the formal dedication ceremony telling students, “You will do amazing things for the Kingdom in this lab.” And that is the goal, especially in the liberal arts community. According to Hsu, there is a traditional resistance to engineering in liberal arts programs, but he believes it can be an ideal fit. The collaboration in practical experimentation that this space encourages will help students become “free thinkers” and build cross-disciplinary connections as they engage mentally and physically with class material to fabricate rough prototypes as well as “finished, functional and marketable” final products.

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