Bradley Dlatt: Funds and benefits outweigh the price of SEC

Colleges and universities are largely driven by competition. Every school strives to attract better applicants and ensure the continued value of that university’s degree.

In the increasingly competitive fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, many universities across the country are entering the battle with guns blazing to attract federal funds, the best professors and the best students. But comparing GW’s outdated facilities and lack of a strong research foundation is like taking on the tanks of other universities with a slingshot.

All is not lost for GW, however. To remedy our shortcomings in those fields, the University has proposed a Science and Engineering Complex that will provide eight floors of classrooms, labs, study spaces, offices and research facilities. This project, slated to cost an estimated $275 million, is a crucial first step in modernizing GW’s capacity for scientific research. And while the facility has been deemed too costly and over the top, it is necessary in order to attract the best possible professors and students. It is time for our University to step into the 21st century by establishing the best possible facilities for science research through the SEC.

Initially, we must understand that the complex will allow GW to become more competitive with other major universities and will pay for itself over time through increased science research grants and the attraction of improved faculty. In short, if we want to be the best, we must be able to accommodate the best. According to a June 2010 report about the project, the facility will include over 290,000 square feet of usable space, which will consist of 78,000 square feet of lab space, a 300-seat auditorium, and office space to house more than 40 new research and science faculty members. It also offers increased study space for students and has the potential to free up additional study space in Tompkins Hall.

While detractors are concerned about the need for such a large and expensive facility, there has been a proven positive correlation between the educational facilities of an academic institution and student performance within that institution.

A 2009 study by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration noted, “Over sixty years of research continue to support the positive relationship between building quality and student achievement.” Although this study was targeted at primary education, the relationship between educational facilities and student attention and performance in classes is clear – ask anyone who has taken a class in Duques and then gone to Corcoran Hall for a lab. Students and faculty alike have voiced their complaints about the current science and engineering spaces. The SEC will be an upgrade from the existing facilities and will provide a new technologically advanced environment that has the potential to improve student learning.

On a national level, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Coalition has been declared one of the Obama administration’s priorities, and the SEC expands the potential for GW to receive additional federal funds for research. In the past year, programs such as the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” and “Educate to Innovate” programs are encouraging more students to pursue science and technology. Like these programs, the projects like the SEC are crucial as the United States has fallen behind countries like China in the number of science Ph.D and engineering graduates. The reality is that the United States must be able to compete in science and engineering, fields that will spur the growth of the American economy.

While the SEC is hardly a solution and is not going to shake any global foundations, a refocusing on the sciences at GW signals a key shift in the right direction and an alignment with national priorities on education.

In the end, though the cost of the project may be unwarranted to some, the benefits of the SEC highly outweigh the costs. Yes, the University should provide a method to track funding of the project, but the bottom line remains that GW needs this facility and the short-term costs of such a massive undertaking will be minimal when compared to the long-term benefits. It’s time to dispose of the Colonial slingshot and approach the competition in education and research with our best possible ammunition.

-The writer, a senior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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