Flint, MI—The University of Michigan-Flint concluded construction on its state-of-the-art expansion of the Murchie Science Building this month. The 61,000 square-foot facility will be home to approximately 1,500 STEM and health students. 

“The building was designed in such a way that students can have meaningful collaborations with their professors…because we know the most innovative ideas come through collaboration,” Provost and Vice Chancellor Academic Affairs Dr. Sonja Feist-Price said. 

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Susan Gano-Phillips spearheaded the build, which began in 2015.

“We were extending beyond our capabilities in the existing Murchie Building. We were running out of lab spaces to deliver laboratory classes. [And] if people are interested in health careers, public health, occupational therapy, nursing, physical therapy, they take science courses as a foundation for their professional study. So, between those interested in STEM itself and those interested in health professions, both growing professions, we needed to do more to be able to support students,” Gano-Phillips said. 

The expansion dedicates 25% of its space to classrooms, 50% to laboratories and the remaining 25% to faculty offices and student common areas. 

Laboratories include a Thermal Systems Lab; a Dynamics and Vibration Lab; a Fluids Lab, including a wind tunnel for the study of aerodynamics; Robotics/Mechatronics Lab; and a general Science Lab for high school students enrolled in Genesee Early College. 

Each features the latest technology and serves as a training ground to prepare students for real-world, on the job experiences.

“Our engineering profession is very delicate to some extent. A medical doctor can kill one patient at a time. But the carelessness of an engineer can kill 1,000 people within a fraction of a second,” Head of Engineering Dr. Lanre Aluko said.

Classroom environments blend instruction with application. Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Ming Li teaches students the theory behind robotics but also certifies them to operate and program industry-standard robots like those used in assembly lines.

“Students take the classes, and they can get a certificate. So, it can help them to find a job in the future,” Li said. 

Hands-on experience helps engineering students like Seniors Sean Andrews and Joe Kessler compete in challenges like the Baja Society of Automotive Engineers, an off-road vehicle design competition. 

“[Baja] is basically the application of everything that we’ve learned through our college experience, and we get to put it into a real thing that we get to create through a couple guidelines,” Kessler said. 

Though there is a race aspect to the competition, Kessler said judges care more about the engineering and mechanics. 

“It is, when you present it, [about] why you chose certain things, what engineering practices you put in to optimize your car,” he said. 

The new MSB wing will also house UM-Flint’s first classes offered by the College of Innovation & Technology, which launches in Fall 2021.

Dr. Chris Pearson, dean of the new college, said the program is designed to prepare students for STEM jobs that “don’t exist yet.”  

“There are jobs that people have today that people didn’t know about. So, it’s to help prepare them to become lifelong learners and be adaptable, so that in their career, they can move from their entry level jobs, to another job, but just keep moving. Because technology and jobs change so fast these days,” Pearson said.

The State of Michigan provided a $29.25 million capital outlay appropriation for the project, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation awarded UM-Flint an $11 million grant for construction of the wing and upgrades to other areas of the existing building, which was built in the late 1980s. 

“It’s wonderful to see this vision come to life,” Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Mott Foundation, said. “The expansion of this building, combined with additional STEM opportunities at UM-Flint, will prepare current and future students to contribute to a growing and evolving economy. They will be our future innovators and industry leaders.” 

Gano-Phillips said the pandemic caused only minor setbacks on the building’s completion. 

“We were nervous or anxious about it, as I think everybody is. Most importantly, we thought about safety of workers and folks who were doing the work… We were shut down when the state was shut down for that six- or eight-week period of time, so we were delayed a little bit,” she said. 

Campus traffic is low due to the pandemic, but there are two classes being offered at present. Gano-Phillips said the university hopes to make full use of the space by spring or summer. 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...