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A rendering of Seattle University’s new Center for Science & Innovation. (EYP/Mithūn Image)

Seattle University prepared to break ground Thursday on what it is calling the “new heart” of its Capitol Hill campus, a Center for Science & Innovation that will be the largest-ever capital project for the 128-year-old institution.

Facing unprecedented enrollment demand in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines over the past decade, Seattle U is starting construction this summer on a new five-story, 111,000-square foot building with a price tag of $100 million. The CSI, located at the corner of 12th Avenue and East Marion Street, is being called a “gateway” to the 50-acre campus and is scheduled to open in 2021. Two renovated buildings will follow in 2023.

The majority of funds are being raised from donors, including gifts from PACCAR ($5 million), Amazon ($3 million), Microsoft ($3 million) and Murdock Trust ($1.75 million). Named spaces already include PACCAR Courtyard, Amazon Computer Science Project Center and the Microsoft Cafe.

The Center for Science & Innovation is intended to address to rapid enrollment increases in STEM majors at Seattle U. (EYP/Mithūn Image)

According to Seattle U, the College of Science and Engineering is the university’s fastest growing college/school. In the 2018-19 academic year, 1,272 students were enrolled in undergraduate or graduate programs in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, mathematics, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and environmental science — a 61 percent increase in the past decade.

Enrollment in the college is expected to reach 1,600 by 2026, with the most rapid growth in computer science, where enrollment has quadrupled since 2009, making it the fastest growing department at the university.

Mike Quinn, PhD, dean of the College of Science and Engineering, was told 12 years ago when he interviewed for the dean’s job that a new science building was on the way. Back then he couldn’t have imagined the demand for STEM majors.

“After a decade of planning, it’s thrilling to be standing in front of you today as we symbolically break ground on this project,” Quinn said Thursday, according to prepared remarks. “This fabulous new facility, at the gateway to our beautiful campus, represents the growing importance of STEM disciplines, both here at Seattle University and in the modern economy.”

A makerspace at the Center for Science & Innovation. (EYP/Mithūn Image)

The New York Times reported in January on the “student stampede” that is occurring on campuses across the country as the lure of high-paying tech industry jobs fuels interest in computer science education. The demand is straining resources at institutions of all sizes.

The University of Washington addressed the crunch in February with the opening of the Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering, which will enable the UW to double enrollment capacity from 300 to 620 students per year for computer science — the top first-choice major for incoming freshmen.

Microsoft and friends of the Gateses contributed $30 million toward the UW’s $110 million project, and like Seattle U’s CSI, the building features a Microsoft Cafe. Amazon donated $10 million to the UW building.

Ed Lazowska, a UW professor who helped lead fundraising efforts for the building, described the relationship between nearby tech companies and the UW as “incredibly symbiotic.” There are several high-profile professors who not only teach and conduct research at the university, but also hold top positions at Amazon, Google, Facebook, AI2, and other top organizations.

A planned research lab at the new Seattle U building. (EYP/Mithūn Image)

The CSI will be home to Seattle U’s biology, chemistry and computer science programs. Highlights of the new building include:

  • A new makerspace where students from across campus will use technology, tools and materials to bring ideas to life.
  • Six multi-investigator research labs for biology and chemistry.
  • Thirteen state-of-the-art teaching labs to improve hands-on activities in lab-based courses.
  • Adjoining facilities with environmental controls and specialized instruments and equipment.
  • Significant increase in the capacity of university classrooms.
  • More than 16 faculty offices for departments in other schools/colleges.
  • New student study spaces.
  • New home for the Center for Community Engagement and the student-run radio station KXSU.
  • Creation of a University Commons for campus events.
  • Cafe and gathering space.

“The Center for Science and Innovation will support growth in the majors most in demand by our students,” Quinn said. “It will significantly improve the educational opportunities we are able to provide our students, not just in lectures and labs, but also through research projects and design competitions mentored by our dedicated faculty and staff members.”

Take a virtual tour of the CSI via the video below:

Renovations will also take place at the existing Bannan Engineering and Science buildings — six stories totaling 66,000 square feet — and will house engineering, math and physics.

Thursday’s groundbreaking guests included Seattle U President Stephen V. Sundborg, SJ,; Nichole Piasecki, Board of Trustees chair, director of Saltchuk Resources, Inc. and former prominent executives at Boeing; Cecile Hansen, chair of the Duwamish Tribe, who will provide a native lands acknowledgement; Dean Allen, CEO of McKinstry and CSI Task Force Chair; Michael Quinn, PhD, dean of the College of Science and Engineering; and representatives from the design and construction teams: Robert McClure of EYP Architecture & Engineering; Brendan Connolly of Mithun; and Lew Guerrette of Skanska USA.

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