FARGO – North Dakota State University is poised to open a new facility that officials say will revolutionize the school’s instruction in science, technology, engineering and math.

The $29.4 million STEM building is almost completed and will be open for classes in January, serving an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 students a day.

“That’s the big buzz going around, is the STEM building,” said student body president Eric McDaniel at an enthusiastic dedication ceremony Thursday afternoon.

President Dean Bresciani called the building “stunning” and said it symbolized the university’s focus on students, with “active classrooms” that are designed to encourage interaction.

“This will be the finest undergraduate teaching space in the state of North Dakota and probably in our multistate area,” Bresciani said.

The building has 23 labs, 13 study areas and nine classrooms, which are designed according to the latest pedagogical studies, Provost Beth Ingram told a small crowd of NDSU employees, students, donors and state legislators.

For example, rather than having rows of seats all facing the front of a room, many of the building’s classrooms position the desks in circles or triangles, so that students are facing each other.

In at least one classroom, every circular table has the technology to project a laptop image onto a nearby screen, so that a teacher could hypothetically see different work on all 11 screens.

“I can scan the room and get a really good sense of what’s happening,” said Jenni Momsen, assistant professor of biological sciences. “Or the instructor can say, ‘Table 8 right here, you’ve got a really good solution,’ and they can choose to project that onto every (screen).”

Momsen said evidence indicates that hands-on activities help students retain information longer.

She also said it’s easier for her to physically get to students when they’re seated in pods, as opposed to rows. Even in the building’s classrooms that are set up like lecture halls, the desks are movable and therefore can be rolled into small groups.

“The physical layout of this space is amazing,” Momsen said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the “very special” building was a testament to the people who lobbied for its state funding in 2013.

“For years and years, the only thing we could build was sports arenas, fitness centers and parking ramps because they all had revenue streams, and we never seemed to be able to just spend our own taxpayer dollars for a true academic space,” he said. “So it feels good, to put a true academic-dedicated building right in the middle of a campus. That’s as it should be.”

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