Montgomery College’s Science East building recently got a makeover that added new classrooms and labs among other spaces — a completion that spurred a celebration at the college’s Rockville Campus on Wednesday.
The roughly $21 million project updated the building originally built in 1966 and includes new classrooms, math labs, a student lounge and faculty offices.
The Science East building, about 61,000 square feet, is connected to the campus’ Rockville Science Center.
The building has hosted classes since January but the Wednesday open house marked the official celebration, which state and county officials attended among others.
Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard said the number of students studying STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — at the college has increased by nearly 2,000 over the past five years. That growth marks a 76 percent increase, she said.
Pollard said the college had faced a challenge in teaching “the work force of tomorrow” in a building constructed “so many yesterdays ago.”
Professors and students said the renovated building marks a stark contrast to the older facilities where they used to teach and learn.
Danielle Van Horn, a secondary math education major, said at Wednesday’s open house that a class she took in the campus’ Science West building was tightly packed.
Her favorite thing about the renovated building, she said, is how open the classrooms are.
No longer are students stepping over each others’ back packs, she said, and the rooms provide large tables with more work space and multiple whiteboards.
Stephanie Talbot, an associate professor of mathematics, also described “inadequate classrooms” that were cramped, equipped with chalkboards and often without computers.
“These classrooms didn’t give my students the environment to engage dynamically with me or with each other,” she said to the open house guests. “We now have so much more.”
Talbot said her new classroom allows her to set up projects so that students can work independently and includes technology that enables her to project a student’s work station so the whole class can see.
The Math Emporium, a large computer lab, allows her students to work at their own pace, Talbot said.
“I get to help my students individually and they no longer feel left behind,” she said.
Sirisha Kala, an assistant math professor, showed off the projection system in her classroom during a tour of the building that allows her to project the notes she takes on her computer and write with a special tool on the projection itself. The technology records her notes, which she can then email to her students.
Kala said her new classroom is “very different” from her old one and that she specifically requested a room with the projection technology.
“My students love it,” she said.
One classroom in the renovated building was designed with a laid-back style meant to evoke a cafe atmosphere. Students on Wednesday sat on cushioned green and blue chairs in a room with large windows as they took part in a lesson.
The college’s open house attracted several county and state officials, including state Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Dist. 39), state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett.
Leggett said the county needs to be serious about the STEM subjects or otherwise could “fall very, very far behind.”
The building project, he said, “makes a very strong statement” about the college’s commitment to STEM education.
“We have a great opportunity,” he said. “We have now enhanced that opportunity and created an even greater opportunity.”