(Photo by William Atkins)
Tapping a Building’s Potential
For School of Engineering Dean David Dolling, planned Science and Engineering Complex provides momentum for deeper focus on research, collaboration.
The success of a school rests on a tripod of faculty, students and infrastructure, says Dean David Dolling of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and SEAS is in the midst of augmenting all of those pillars at once. A great deal of the transition, though, is being fueled by a single component: the promise of the Science and Engineering Complex.
“I’ve been telling people: If you see what we’re doing without the building,” he says, “imagine what is possible when it does come online.”
The proposed state-of-the-art building, which is awaiting final approval from the city, would be completed in late-2014, as SEAS enters its 130th year. It would nearly double the space on the Foggy Bottom Campus available to several science and engineering disciplines, and would bring under one roof an array of departments—five from SEAS and four from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences—currently spread across a dozen buildings around campus.
Dean Dolling, an internationally regarded aerospace engineer, took time recently to discuss his vision for the building and its impact on the engineering school.
Q: You said recently that you’d like for SEAS eventually to become another “jewel in the GW crown,” something that people intrinsically identify with the university. How so?
If you travel the East Coast and you say “GW” people will tend first to think of policy and politics and business and law. Engineering, technology and science are probably not the first things that spring to mind. Five years from now I would like “GW” to invoke that image also.
Q: How does the Science and Engineering Complex factor into that?
My view of universities is that there are three core components: the faculty, the students and the infrastructure—and by the infrastructure actually I’m including “people” because I think that a first-class staff is one of the three legs that a university sits on. We need to have all three. They all depend on and feed off of each other.
Right now at SEAS we’re building all of it at the same time. We have the SEC coming online, which will be one incredibly valuable tool for recruiting high quality students, but we also are building the school that ought to be in the SEC—by increasing the size of the student body, improving the quality of the students we admit, and changing the mix in the graduate student body to include more people doing full-time doctoral research.
The SEC still does not exist physically, it is on paper, but it’s having a huge influence, certainly with respect to the quality of the faculty we’re able to recruit now. For example, professor Elias Balaras came to us in January from University of Maryland. He does computational fluid dynamics, and he has brought with him close to $2 million in research grants spread out over several years. He would be one of the first to say that if the School of Engineering was not on a steep gradient upwards, which is driven by the building, he wouldn’t have left Maryland.
And the same thing is true for the other younger faculty members we’ve recruited this year and last year, mostly from the nation’s top engineering schools, including MIT, Berkeley, Georgia Tech and Princeton. I’m absolutely confident that they would not have come here without seeing the future that is projected by the building and this growth.
Q: What are you hearing from students about the building?
There’s nothing but support for it. We are very cramped now and restricted in what we can do. Engineering students like to get involved in extracurricular activities—national design competitions, activities like that—but there’s very little space for them to do the preparatory work. The SEC will offer that with the high bay
and other laboratory facilities.
Q: How would the building impact undergraduate research?
The building allows us to attract many faculty who are going to be engaged in research, and the more faculty you have doing research the greater the possibilities for students.
That’s important because we want to generate students who are, to use a metaphor, like an uppercase “T.” The vertical bar is the technical depth in a discipline—mechanical engineering, computer science, etc.—but across the top is all the things that broaden them, that make them more mature, more attractive to employers and graduate schools. Giving people a taste of everything—research, internships, study abroad—prepares them better for making decisions about what they want to do once they graduate.
Q: Is there an aspect or a facility in the building that you’re particularly excited about?
I’d say there are two or three things: One in particular is the fundamental concept for how the building is laid out, mixing research, instruction and administration. So we’re not going to have a set-up where floors one and two are instruction; floors three and four are research; floor five is where everybody has an office. There will be an intermingling, from freshmen through PhD students, to post-docs, to faculty. Seeing on a daily basis what’s going on around you in instruction and research simply encourages collaboration.
But I also think that having lots of social spaces distributed around the building is going to really encourage people to get together and talk, and develop ideas together, and act on them. The reality is that despite the invention of the telephone and the fax machine and the computer and the Internet and texting, nothing works better than face-to-face if you’re going to work with somebody and learn from them.
There also is a move towards delivering instruction differently than we’ve done in the past. In traditional engineering curricula you get lecture sessions and then, later, laboratory sessions. But if you
combine the two so that the students do those at the same time, or separated by just minutes, then that makes an enormous difference to understanding how the theoretical and the practical interface with one another.
For more insight into the impact of the Science and Engineering Complex, check out our recent Q&A with Dean Peg Barratt of GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
- Square footage: Approximately 400,000 square feet above grade with 290,000 usable square feet, including teaching and research spaces, faculty offices and other support spaces.
- Floors: 14 (Eight floors above grade and two floors below for programming space; four floors below grade for parking)
- Parking: 379 spaces
- Completion: Late 2014
- Preliminary cost estimate: $275 million, funded primarily with lease payments from Square 54 (across from GW Hospital), indirect cost reimbursement from grants and contracts supporting faculty research, and philanthropic gifts from the GW community (Learn more about philanthropic giving to the Science and Engineering Complex)