By Madison Knobloch
Walking through the upper levels of Engineering Hall, the classrooms are still full of rickety desks with names carved in the wood. The hallways are lined with pale sea-foam green doorframes and with greenish-blue terrazzo flooring to complete the ensemble. You almost feel like you forgot to shine your shoes or wear your long 50’s skirt to class. Engineering Hall is just one of the examples of how outdated the engineering campus environment has become. About twenty years ago, former Dean of the College of Engineering (CoE) at UW-Madison, John Bollinger, decided that if engineering students were finding innovative ways to solve problems of the future, the environment they work in should reflect that. Thus, he initiated Vision 2000.
Bollinger imagined a reinvigorated CoE that provided students with the materials they needed for success, while also boosting the economy. The Vision 2000 initiative was partially put into action by the Wisconsin Initiative for State Technology and Applied Research (WISTAR) that funded improvements in educational facilities around the state of Wisconsin. Surveyors in 1995 estimated that the CoE had 160,000 square feet less space than was adequate to house all of the students in the CoE, and Bollinger knew that the number of student engineers would only increase. As a result, a redesign of the engineering campus was initiated. No ground could have been broken without generous donors that “believed in the accomplishments of UW-Madison engineers and wanted to set the stage for a future that will fill the walls [of the new buildings] with ingenuity and discovery,” noted the invitation to the groundbreaking of the Engineering Centers Building (ECB).
The ECB was the largest addition that the Vision 2000 made to the CoE. In May of 2000, four buildings that dated back to World War II were demolished and replaced by ECB to compensate for the increasing enrollment in engineering. The first two floors and a mezzanine floor were primarily devoted to student activities, such as extracurricular organizations and team projects, while the remaining space was for research and teaching in an environment that encouraged interdisciplinary activity. The upper floors were uniquely designed with display windows that allow students an inside look at the machinery in some of the labs. Classrooms in this building were specifically fashioned with circular tables to encourage the teamwork aspect of education that CoE emphasizes so much. Not only was this building functional, but the colorful flooring was designed to reflect different algorithms and scientific concepts found in engineering.
The Vision 2000 project may have been completed over ten years ago, but the ideals it represents still live on. Shannon Devenish, director of the new facilities department for CoE, says that with enrollment skyrocketing, her team is pressured more than ever to create an environment that promotes teaching, teamwork, and creativity. Her team has only given the students a small taste of the big plans she has in mind. Engineering students now walk into the lobby of Engineering Hall and find welcoming Badger-red upholstery on retro furniture and kaleidoscopic carpeting. There are tables with outlets enabling the use of technology, and a Badger Market fueling intense studying. There is no other place on campus that rivals the vibe the emanates from the students studying in the Engineering Hall lobby, which probably explains why you can find students from the College of Letters and Sciences or the School of Business studying there too.
This is just the beginning of the planned renovations for the entire CoE. Wendt Library is scheduled for a remodeling that includes updating and adding classrooms that encourage collaboration, and a whole floor currently called a “maker’s space”. This entails “access to computers where students can come in and design, and then go through the different stations of 3D printers, scanners, a wood shop and an electrical equipment station,” says Devenish. The Engineering Centers Building is adding research labs and the Engineering Research Building and the 1410 Engineering Dr. Building are also in the master plan for major reconstruction. “You can’t just give students great textbooks and expect them to be successful. How they study, how they learn, how they feel about the environment they are in impacts their whole day — their whole thought process.”
“We want to set a level of quality across the College of Engineering,” says Devenish, which is exactly what Bollinger had in mind twenty years ago. Devenish looks to the work and ideas from the Vision 2000 program to create a vision for 2017 and on. She hopes that a more modern atmosphere for the engineering campus will reinvigorate the trailblazing attitude that is so characteristic of a UW-Madison engineer.