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Oxford plans science center
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Administrators at Oxford College of Emory University want to construct a state-of-the-art science center on the campus to enhance existing programs and house new ones with expanded capabilities.

Oxford Dean Stephen Bowen welcomed local business and government leaders to a lunch Thursday discussing the plan and asking for input on what they thought a new science facility should offer.

Bowen said the idea for a new center was born out of the college's strategic plan.

"A vital thing Oxford really needed to establish in that plan is Oxford's role in the Emory University System," Bowen said.

He said the role as a two-year liberal arts college should be to prepare students not only for study at a four-year institution, but also how to think critically and develop a social conscience.

Twenty percent of students at Emory University start at Oxford College, and Bowen said they show more academic prowess than others.

"Emory professors always tell me they can tell the Oxford students apart from the others because they sit in the front and they ask hard questions," he said.

Bowen said Oxford administrators and faculty are focused on the breath of their students' education.

"There's no area of study where this is more important than in the sciences," Bowen said.

Biology professor Eloise Carter explained some of the science programs of which she and her colleagues are particularly proud.

"A lot of the things I'm showing you today are the things we're really excited about and we want to look at how to incorporate and enhance them in the new building," Carter said.

Carter said she wants her students to gain real-world experience while at Oxford. She showed attendants pictures of a research team studying microbial ecology/genetics on the bank of a stream and explained how each student must present investigation assignments to their class and defend their results.

She said the science faculty must use case studies in every course and always use technology to improve lectures and assignments.

"There are lots of ways to approach teaching and learning," Carter said.

Oxford science students also connect with k-12 students through stream chemistry projects with middle school students and storybook statistics with elementary school students.

Science faculty members also teach k-12 teachers how to conduct school-yard experiments with their students through the Oxford Institute for Environmental Education in the summer.

They also encourage independent or self-motivated study through programs such as Oxford Research Scholars and the Howard Hughes Grant SURE Program.

The Oxford Exploring the World program allows students to visit different environments around the globe and how the people in that region study it.

"One of our goals is to speak with as many of our constituents as possible about what we want for the future," Carter said.

Perkins and Will architects Gary McNay and Erika Morgan were on hand to explain the goal to have the building certified in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

Emory University has mandated all new buildings constructed in the system must have at least a gold rating, but McNay said the plan is to build it with a platinum rating. Points are scored based on features in categories such as water management, energy efficiency and use of recycled or environmentally friendly materials.

"We really think this will be a place where people in Newton County will come to see how this works," Carter said, "and not just from Newton County, but from all over the Southeast."

Board of Counselors members Denny Dobbs and Zoe Hicks wanted to know what industry leaders thought the building should include and what skills they looked for in their employees.

Attendants said the building should allow students to have access to abundant information, computerize everything and provide opportunities for area business and government leaders to view what the students are doing.

Dobbs said a modern science facility is crucial to the Oxford experience.

"My dad was a pretty good farmer with a mule," Dobbs said, "but when he got a tractor he was a really good farmer - really efficient."

He said a new center at the campus could potentially create world leaders in areas of chemistry, biology and medicine.

Bowen explained the Emory University system has promised to fund half of the projected $36 million of construction and equipment costs.

"This building is going to happen," Bowen said. "It's more of a when, than an if."

For more information on the proposed science center, call Oxford College at (770) 784-8888.