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First Things First

Parson Foundation Gift

Pitzer College is pleased to announce a prestigious $250,000 grant from the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation. This grant will support the creation of a Science Learning Community as part of the Residential Life Project. The Science Learning Community will include a faculty apartment for a scientist in-residence, dedicated residential rooms for students pursuing science majors, and dedicated study rooms and living room areas for science students. The goal is to create a supportive community for students while they are exploring their chosen fields of biology, chemistry and physics, or one of many interdisciplinary fields such as neurobiology or environmental science.

According to education experts brought together by Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL), one of the leading advocates in the U.S. for building and sustaining strong undergraduate programs in the fields of science, “If colleges and universities are to build the kind of natural science communities that succeed in attracting and sustaining student interest in science and mathematics, spaces must encourage daily interaction between student and faculty, and between student and student.” For many, it may seem ironic that successful spaces for teaching the “hard sciences” are those that:

  • encourage an open community,
    fortuitous encounters, serendipitous engagement;
  • are welcoming to all, kind to the user, human-scaled;
  • are subservient to human activity, enabling people to connect with ease;
  • meet current needs, keep future options open, and can change with grace;
  • are open to surprise, comfortable with conflict; and
  • enable a community to reach continually toward its potential.

PKAL promotes the development of ideal spaces for learning science—spaces where members of the campus community can connect with each other as they explore the world around them. These spaces, by virtue of their design and locations, should also signal that science is a core discipline in 21st century liberal arts education and, in so doing, encourage and expand the community of science. Moreover, these spaces should be built with sustainability in mind to reduce budget costs while mitigating or eliminating negative environmental impacts.

Ultimately, the ideal space for learning science is one in which students connect what they are learning in the classroom and lab to the world beyond the campus, engaged in real-world problems and possibilities.

Pitzer is creating just this kind of ideal space with its new Science Learning Community funded in part through the generosity of the Parsons Foundation.

Features of the Science Learning Community
Students may elect to live in a themed community for a semester or year, or they may spend two or three years in one area, particularly if it is a close match to their degree program major;
accommodations for 26 to 30 first-year through senior-level students who have an interest or major in science, with accompanying communal study, and meeting spaces;

an apartment to be used on a two- or three-year rotating basis by new tenure-track science professors who, in addition to their formal classes, would be available to lead discussions about contemporary scientific and technology issues informally with the resident students during non-class hours;
funding permitting, a second smaller apartment for a graduate student who could act as coach and tutor for the students as well as organize periodic science-related activities such as workshops, guest speakers, field trips, internships, etc.;
at least one “smart” seminar room that would have the technology and software to enable multimedia presentations, Internet connections, and computer-based laboratory work for such things as molecular modeling in order to supplement classroom
integrated indoor/outdoor spaces that could be used as environmental education demonstration areas and examples of sustainable design and native landscaping; and
a program fund to support all these science-related activities.