Ridgewater College's remodeled science labs are more accommodating

Before the old Ridgewater College biology lab was remodeled, everyone wanted the comfortable chair. After the remodeling, everyone gets a comfortable chair.

Before the old Ridgewater College biology lab was remodeled, everyone wanted the comfortable chair. After the remodeling, everyone gets a comfortable chair.

"Before, we would all be fighting over who would have the cushy chair in the old laboratory versus the hard metal stools,'' remembers student Michael Knudsen.

"There's a vast improvement in the chairs ... by far more comfortable to sit in the lab for three hours,'' said Knudsen, a pre-medicine student earning his liberal arts degree at Ridgewater's Willmar campus.

Better chairs are among the upgrades in the remodeled and re-equipped biology, chemistry and physics labs at Ridgewater's Willmar and Hutchinson campuses. The $2.8 million project was completed this past August.

Instructors and students say the new labs are bright, larger and packed with new features. In the biology lab, uniquely-designed pods replace long tables and benches. Each pod has room for six students, and three sets of sinks, and gas and water fixtures are built into the center of each pod.


The design was conceived by Ridgewater science instructors and is now considered by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to be the best design for biology labs, says Ridgewater biology instructor Shawn Mueske.

He said the tables were originally designed in the shape of a dog bone. The design was used at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and was considered innovative. However, the design requires the instructor to walk around the entire "bone'' to get to students on the other side, said Mueske.

"Our own initiative was to split the bone design, which provides much more efficient use of the instructor's time by not walking around so much,'' he said. "These have all been custom-made for this particular space. We are the only school that has this. It came out of a discussion of faculty being able to better serve students ... and we came up with it on a napkin pretty much.''

Students like the new setup.

"You don't need to go to anywhere to a sink,'' said Les Kallestad of Willmar. "They're right where you're sitting. It's more sectionalized. You have your own little table space. You share with one other person instead of a big table where you share with four or however many people. It looks nice.''

Cindy Boys of Sauk Centre is a veterinary technician student who also studied in the old biology and chemistry labs.

"It seemed like there was never enough room,'' said Boys. "In the chemistry lab, we were always standing, bumping into each other. There's a lot more room here. ... The setup is a lot better. It's a lot more comfortable.''

Students no longer crowd around the instructor to watch a demonstration because ceiling-mounted cameras can project the demonstration onto a big screen for all to see.


The biology lab has new laminar flow hoods with special filters that screen out pathogens when students are doing experiments, and the lab has new dishwashers and distilled water distribution systems.

The chemistry lab was remodeled into a geology lab. In the old arrangement, water jets stuck straight out from columns scattered throughout the room. Hoses connected to the jets were placed in a trough, but the hoses could pop off if the water was turned up too high, resulting in a wet student.

Instructors are pleased with the project.

"One thing we've done is integrate computers right into the lab stations. That's probably the prominent feature,'' said chemistry instructor John Benson. "Now we have the ability for students to collect data, using data collection software and probes.''

Interim chemistry instructor Aubrey McIntosh praised the remodeled facilities.

"The lab is a very nice facility,'' said McIntosh. "Safety is a big thing in chemistry, and it looks like it's a very safe lab. It looks like it's got good equipment for undergraduates. I've been in several labs. This compares very favorably to lots of places.''

Some of the former labs were 20 to 30 years old. Funding was first vetoed by former Gov. Jesse Ventura. State lawmakers and representatives of the chancellor's office were later convinced of the need after touring the campus and sitting in uncomfortable seats and at short work benches.

The Hutchinson campus did not have science facilities. The campus rented classroom space at the high school, and students drove to the Willmar campus once a week for lab work. After the first funding proposal was vetoed, college officials pooled some funds and bought second-hand equipment to establish temporary facilities at Hutchinson.


"Now we have beautiful biology, chemistry and physics/earth science labs at Hutchinson,'' said Dr. Joseph Bessie, dean of transfer education. One Hutchinson instructor told Bessie that students "seem to have a newfound excitement and respect for the whole learning process in that biology lab.''

The updates come as more students are interested in allied health, especially nursing, said Bessie. "We had been providing competent facilities, but really this was very much needed to meet the growing demand for people in science and allied health."

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