An Invigorated Fort Lewis College Commits to STEM-Focused Education

An Invigorated Fort Lewis College Commits to STEM-Focused Education

In January 2017, students at Fort Lewis College (FLC) will for the first time enter the brand new Geosciences, Physics and Engineering Hall (GPE). The building is the culmination of a massive infrastructure investment that began 21 years ago. This extraordinary new facility highlights FLC’s interest in, and commitment to, innovative and relevant science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs, and ushers in a new era for the college.

I had the pleasure of touring the GPE building in November of 2016. It is an architectural, artistic and intellectual inspiration for FLC and our community. More than just a high-quality building, it represents a deepened commitment to undergraduate STEM education – grounded by the principals of a well-rounded liberal arts approach. The GPE Hall showcases the college’s collaboration with the community. Ultimately, it represents opportunity. Geoscience courses have a longstanding reputation for excellence at FLC and the Physics and Engineering Departments have seen significant growth in both the level of academic challenge and enrollment in recent years. The state-of-the-art GPE facility will allow these proven and successful academic departments to flourish.

Over the last five years, there has been a 38 percent growth in the number of declared STEM majors. Today, 43 percent of all FLC majors are in a STEM-focused line of study. Considering only majors within the Department of Physics and Engineering, the numbers are even more telling. In 2010, the engineering program enrolled 95 students. By 2016, the number of students totaled 247.

Demand and enrollment continue to grow and beginning in fall 2017, the Department of Physics and Engineering will add a new degree to its program – Computer Engineering. In designing the degree, FLC actively solicited feedback from the Durango business community, particularly from highly successful, local science and high tech firms.  As Mitch Davis, Public Affairs Officer at the College noted, “We asked community leaders what skills they need in their employees and we integrated those into the new degree.” Davis’ statement demonstrates that the college is firmly committed to providing disciplines that meet the needs of the broader community and help ensure the employability of its students. “We want our graduates to be adaptable to changes in technology and in the world. We strive to enable our students to be nimble, and to be leaders, as the world changes” said Davis.

For perspective on the quality of education FLC is providing, the college’s engineering students average a 90 percent pass rate on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam (a requirement for becoming a professional licensed engineer). This is a far higher pass rate than the national average, which hovers in the 70-79 percent range.

Construction for the $35.3 million, three story, approximately 60,000-square-foot GPE Hall began in 2014. FLC has applied for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, the most widely used green building rating system in the world, verifying green design, construction, operations and maintenance of resource-efficient, high-performing, cost-effective, healthy and productive building spaces.

Our environments shape learning and in the GPE building, there is a story around every corner that encourages intellectual curiosity. A few highlights:

  • The Rooftop Astronomy Deck with its sliding roofs will house cutting-edge telescopes allowing students and faculty to monitor and track space debris in Earth’s orbit.
  • A Constellation Ceiling features exact replicas of select, northern hemisphere constellations. They are stamped into the ceiling and backlit by tiny LED lights.
  • A 200-lb Foucault pendulum sways from a three-story cable near the east entrance demonstrating the rotation of the Earth.
  • The Geologic Wall of Time displays geologic development over 1.8 billion years.
  • “Smart” classrooms allow students and professors to link their work and share it in real time with the entire class.
  • Several state-of-the-art labs, including the Robotics Assembly Lab and the Smash Lab, provide ample opportunity for creative experiments and projects. The Smash Lab features two enormous concrete slabs between which students can crush objects and evaluate the physics of how they morph.

FLC recognizes it has a responsibility to its students, first and foremost. This means providing an education that will not only produce well-rounded and productive members of society, but also employable graduates. FLC’s commitment to STEM education, as evidenced by the new GPE building and new Computer Engineering major, continues the college’s legacy of balance with evolution to meet the ever changing needs of the today’s world.


Geosciences, Physics & Engineering (GPE) Hall Project

Computer Engineering Major

Computer Engineering Video

Foucault Pendulum

Falcon Telescope Network

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