Feature Story | 3-Oct-2022

Wellesley College leads the way for women in STEM with the opening of its new Science Complex

Wellesley College celebrates the inauguration of its most ambitious capital project in the past 100 years, a newly transformed Science Complex focused on collaborative learning and cutting edge research facilities.

Wellesley College

Wellesley College announced the opening of its new Science Complex, transforming an outdated science center into an inviting, integrated and flexible complex with spaces focused on collaborative and state of the art STEM research and learning. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the Science Complex is the most significant construction project in Wellesley College’s history. With nearly 100,000 square feet of newly constructed teaching and research facilities, the new Science Complex positions Wellesley College to advance its leadership in inclusive STEM education for women.

“Wellesley College is proud of our record educating the highest numbers of women who go on to receive PhDs in STEM fields among our liberal arts peers,” stated Wellesley College President Paula A. Johnson. “The new Science Complex will allow us to strengthen our commitment to educating the next generation of inclusive STEM leaders by creating a collaborative hub for teaching and research where students, faculty, and staff can discover and learn together.”  

Since its founding, Wellesley College has recognized the critical importance of scientific education for women and inclusive excellence within the field. Five of the seven most popular majors at Wellesley are currently in STEM, and the percentage of STEM degrees earned by  underrepresented minority students has doubled over the past 10 years. Wellesley STEM faculty, over 50 percent of whom are women, are awarded more federal funding than any other liberal arts college without a graduate program. These funds enable students to participate at the forefront of many different fields of research, from quantum mechanics to biotechnology.

Inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted’s original vision for Wellesley’s campus, SOM’s design reimagines the new Science Complex as a “village” for collaboration and exchange among departments and fields of expertise. For example, new interdisciplinary laboratory facilities will allow faculty and students from Wellesley’s psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive and linguistic sciences programs to conduct cutting-edge research across all three disciplines in order to uncover new information about the human mind. A central spine, called the Chao Innovation Hub, connects the various buildings and is filled with breakout areas and windows that reveal the laboratory spaces in the surrounding buildings, putting science on display. As an inviting space for collaboration and exchange, the Science Complex is designed to bring together faculty and students from different departments to engage with one another.

The gardens and structures surrounding the complex are designed to break down barriers between the built and natural environment and to add to Wellesley’s rich landscape. These include the award-winning Global Flora Conservatory, the Whitin Observatory, new teaching and research greenhouses, the morning garden, the Janet Hostetter Wilson ’55 Experimental Garden, and the Global Flora North Garden.

"The project links together the buildings with the landscape to create a living laboratory,” said SOM Design Partner Colin Koop. “We worked closely with Wellesley College on a careful mix of removal, renovation, and addition to give students and faculty a more inviting and engaging experience—accommodating both an increased demand for STEM education and active and inclusive learning environments in the scientific disciplines.”

Before the renovation and expansion, the science building was consuming more energy than any other building on the Wellesley College campus. With innovative design, adaptive reuse and sustainable materials, the science complex received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification this year.

Throughout the 6 year process, Wellesley College made it a priority to work with planners, designers and builders who actively work for real, long-term diversity changes within their industries to work on this project. As a result, more than 25% of the vendors selected were Massachusetts Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) and Women Business Enterprises (WBE).

To celebrate the opening, Wellesley College is hosting a symposium today, October 3, on breaking the gender barrier in STEM education and leadership. Dr. Reshma Kewalramani, president and CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, will join the event as keynote speaker followed by a panel discussion led by Wellesley College President Paula A. Johnson. The panelists include U.S. Representative Jake Auchincloss, Director of Quality and Safety at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School Dana Im, President and CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals Reshma Kewalramani, and Professor and Dean of MIT School of Science Nergis Mavalvala, who will discuss the intersection of government, medicine, education and industry in the women in STEM pipeline. The program will be livestreamed at wellesley.edu/stemforward, along with high-resolution photos, video tours, and details on STEM events and programming around Wellesley’s leadership in the sciences.

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