Stonehill College Dedicates New $34M Science Center
october 2, 2009

By Deacon James N. Dunbar
The Anchor

Science Center

Stonehill College's new, state-of-the-art Science Center that houses the departments of biology, chemistry, physics and psychology, including laboratories, classroom spaces and faculty offices, was dedicated with prayer and a reception on September 24.

Congregation of Holy Cross Father Thomas P. Looney, provincial of the Eastern Province of the Congregation and a 1982 alumnus, presided at the ceremonies of blessing and dedication.

President Father Mark T. Cregan, CSC, '78 surprised the more than 225 guests when he announced that the new building would be named in honor of longtime friends and benefactors, Tom and Mary Shields.

The Shield's gift of $7 million is the largest gift in Stonehill's 61-year history and it moves the college closer to its $55 million "Attaining the Summit" campaign goal, having now secured more than $48 million of that total.

"Tom and Mary are true and loyal friends. We wanted to thank them in a special way for their generosity. By dedicating our signature building, the Thomas F. and Mary J. Shields Science Center, in their honor, we have ensured that the Shield's legacy at Stonehill is recognized at a high profile location on campus, one that is a hub of activity for students and faculty. Given their dynamic support and all that they do for us, this is only fitting," Father Cregan added.

"We are so touched that the college has recognized us like this because we feel part of the Stonehill community. Our friendships here are long standing and every time we come to campus, we are invigorated by the people and by what's happening at Stonehill," Tom Shields said.

The campaign, chaired by Daniel E. Somers, Class of 1969, also assists an ongoing healthy scholarship endowment, which in 2006-2007, awarded $21.3 million in scholarships and grants.

In the midst of its celebration, the college, founded in 1948, took time to offer tribute to one of the pioneers of its science program, Father Francis Hurley, CSC, as its "Father of Biology."

In May, Father Hurley, who for 47 years taught biology and served as department chairman, celebrated his 80th birthday and was named professor emeritus.

"I never would have gone into biology if I hadn't attended Stonehill," said Professor of Biology Maura Greens Tyrrell, Ph.D., who was among the speakers at the ceremonies.

"When I was a freshman in 1960, a friend kept telling me about this professor who made biology into a detective story," she added.

The 89,639 gross square-foot signature building that anchors the southern part of the 375-acre campus, is 33 percent larger than MacPhaidin Library, and is the most recent major academic construction at the college.

It features innovative laboratory spaces that allow the integration of dedicated labs for cutting-edge research and teaching. Combined classroom/labs allow students to immediately translate theory into practice. Faculty offices are organized to promote interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration.

Shields Science Center

A large and beautiful atrium provides 500 seats for hosting conferences, academic events, or informal student gatherings.

Even as it sought to meet modern academic needs, the new building showcases energy efficiency and is an icon of science itself.

It integrates many green, high performance or sustainable features that minimize water usage, reduce green house gases and deploy recycled materials.

In an innovative "clunkers for steel" concept, 95 percent of the structural steel framing came from recycled cars; while the carpet and countertops in many locations are comprised of 40 percent recycled materials.

And the soil and plants in the rooftop garden over the atrium reduce the cooling load and slows the run-off from that portion of the roof.

Construction of the Center, which began before the economic downturn in fall 2008 was completed in May of this year, and 45 students in the Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience program established in 1996, began research with faculty members in the summer and into the current fall semester full-time.

The new world class Science Center not only offers countless possibilities for students, faculty and people in the local community, "but it also means attracting outstanding students," said Professor Louis Liotta, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Chemistry.

"Once you see this building and all it offers students of science, there's no doubt in my mind that they will want to come here," said Liotta, who joined the chemistry department in 1993 after three years as a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow in the laboratories of S.J. Benkovic at The Pennsylvania State University.

The number of students studying science at Stonehill increased eight percent, to more than one-fifth of the total 2,300 enrollment, with the college's decision to "focus on the sciences" and build a new facility, Father Cregan reported.

Liotta's research interests lie at the intersection of chemistry and biology, particularly in the area of bioorganic chemistry.

His teaching approach has two prongs to it, he said. "First I hold my students to a very high standard so they realize what they are capable of. Also I help them do science, not just hear science. I give them projects I don't already know the answers to, and together we engage in the process of inquiry," said Liotta, who was named distinguished faculty scholar 2006-2007; and who holds the Louis Hegerty Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2005-2006.

Professor Tyrell, who has been at Stonehill since 1975, spoke of the transformation of science at the college. She said the design of the new Center provides the open space "that the original facility used from 1948 to 1960 for science -merely a classroom- never offered. Some of its furnishing dated to the Civil War. Even the 1980 building that replaced it -and doubled its size- could never have been retrofitted to meet current codes for healthy air flow needed for laboratory use."

"But at the time we'd thought we'd died and gone to heaven," she noted. Although the old facility had good equipment, the increased number of students and faculty during the past decade "found us overcrowded. There was the need for students to do independent research; there were new majors, all of which altered scientific study. We've inched the bar up over the years in quality and expectation."

Tyrell recalled how she began studies at the college in 1960, but overwhelmed by having to commute from Brockton because there was no housing for women on campus at that time, she transferred to Trinity College in Washington, D.C., which is her hometown.

Shields Science Center

Her graduate work involved marine biology, and marine ecosystems is among the courses she presents. Currently she is involved in the evolutionary biology of Armillaria, a basidiomycete fungus with the potential to cause severe economic damage when it switches from saprotrophic to parasite nutrition.

Tom and Mary Shields' relationship with Stonehill dates back to the 1980s. One of their first initiatives was the creation of a scholarship program for pre-medical students from the Brockton area. Subsequently, they expanded the Shields Scholars program and, today on average, 10 Stonehill students benefit from a Shields Scholarship every year.

First elected as a Stonehill trustee in 1987, Tom became vice chair of the board in 1991 and chair in 1994. As chairman, Tom played a critical role in the success of the college's first capital campaign in 1992-1997 which raised more than $23 million. In 1994, Tom received an honorary doctor of humanities degree and in 1998 the couple was honored with the Moreau Medallion for their outstanding dedication and service to the college as it marked its 50th anniversary.

For Stonehill, more is on the agenda.

The next academic focus for the college will be business, said Father Cregan. Already, 25 percent of Stonehill students study business, including marketing.

return to news releases...