CASTLETON — With a focus on preparing current and future students for high-skill, high-demand, high-paying jobs in Vermont, Castleton University has committed to investing $3.6 million in a renovation and modernization project of the Jeffords Science Center, after recently acquiring a $1 million capital investment from the state of Vermont, according to a May 31 news release.
The Castleton STEM Improvement Project includes funds from the Capital Adjustment Bill containing $500,000 funded up front from the state, paired with $500,000 upon match from the university, totaling $1.5 million to be combined with other funding sources for renovations and expansion of its science laboratories.
The grant marks Castleton’s first state capital bill earmark in Castleton President Dave Wolk’s 15-year tenure. Funds are directly allocated for the renovation project., and do not affect the university’s operating budget.
“I am so grateful to Dick Mazza, Peg Flory, Alice Emmons, and the Rutland County delegation who helped make this happen,” said President Wolk. “In order for our students to be competitive in the job market or in graduate school, they need research experience as undergraduates to develop many laboratory and critical thinking skills necessary for success. Renovations and expansion of our current space will help alleviate current constraints on these opportunities.”
The number of majors offered in Castleton’s Natural Sciences Department has increased significantly in the last 20 years. The department currently houses twelve science faculty members and offer majors in biology, chemistry, ecological studies, environmental science, exercise science, geology, and health science.
Over the last six years the department has won more than $750,000 in grant funding from agencies such as the NSF, the Vermont Genetics Network (VGN), VT-EPSCoR, the USGS, and NEWRnet for active research. The majority of these funds have gone to student-faculty research where students and faculty work side by side on new and innovative research.
“Undergraduate research is an essential component of an education in STEM majors,” said natural sciences department Chairperson Tim Grover. “Faculty in the department routinely support six to eight students with stipends derived from extramural funds, working side by side with faculty on research projects over the summer.”
This past spring the natural sciences department had five such students presenting the results of their research at the Northeast Section meeting of the Geological Society of America and four other students presenting research as a career day event sponsored by the Vermont Genetics Network.
“The Natural Sciences Department at Castleton has a strong tradition of preparing undergraduates for success in STEM careers or graduate school upon completion of their undergraduate degree,” said Wolk, adding that more students are going on to graduate programs to continue their educational journey after Castleton. “Our graduates continue to find meaningful careers in their chosen fields, while making a difference in the world around them.”
The STEM investment comes after completing over $75 million in capital improvements to the Castleton University campus over the last 15 years, all derived from financial sources other than the State of Vermont, as the university outgrows its current footprint in Castleton.
As part of a well-designed strategic plan for the future, predicated on increasing enrollment and investing in the Rutland region, the university has already expanded into the Rutland community, which is now home to Castleton Downtown, the Castleton Polling Institute, the Castleton Center for Community Engagement, Spartan Arena and several downtown art spaces including the Castleton Downtown Gallery, as well as the University’s latest venture of adding energy efficient student housing in the downtown.
A recent partnership with the Rutland Economic Development Corporation has also further solidified Castleton’s commitment to being an economic and intellectual driver in the region. In just a few months thus far, the Castleton/REDC connection has raised aspirations, enhanced morale in the business community, and provided new and better connections for university and college graduates to thrive in Vermont.