There’s something truly special about this place. The brand-new 63,000-square-foot Brown County STEM Innovation Center on the UW-Green Bay campus faces south from the brow of a low hill just west of UW-Green Bay’s Laboratory Sciences building. Its horizontal stance is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style design and is surrounded by open spaces and natural vegetation.
The glass-and-steel frame suggests a modern facility with an industrial flair, open to the world, focused on the future. And that’s exactly what its inhabitants plan to deliver.
Inside, the lobby is sun-filled and colorful, with geometric designs on the walls and a vaulted ceiling that opens to second-floor classrooms and offices. A donor recognition wall dominates the west wall, and letters on an overhead bridge welcome you to the Richard J. Resch School of Engineering, with all of its promises.
“We see this facility as a catalyst for STEM education and business partnerships in Northeast Wisconsin,” said John Katers, dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. “We want to make this region competitive with other parts of the state and the nation in terms of innovation and sustainability. This facility has the potential to attract the faculty, students and business partners to support that vision.
“This is a $15-million facility,” he continued, “with $5 million in funding each coming from the State of Wisconsin, Brown County and private donors. “We broke ground in September 2018 and opened the doors in September 2019. That’s a really quick accomplishment for agencies like ours, and I don’t think it could have happened without the right partners.”
Co-location creates many synergistic relationships. The University of Wisconsin-Extension Brown County program shares the first floor with Brown County’s Land & Water Conservation department. These agencies often interact with the public and provide complementary programming, so having their offices close to each other enhances public access.
East of the lobby and sharing its wall of windows is a large classroom space with partitionable walls. With the walls in place, the space configures into four classrooms. Without partitions, the space can accommodate up to 120 people for collaboration, symposiums and receptions. Just around the corner marks the entrance to the offices of the Einstein Project, which provides educational curriculum and hands-on materials for teachers and students, with a focus on STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and math. The Einstein Project area includes a warehouse for the hundreds of instructional materials they distribute to school districts across the state and a “makerspace”—a place where people (including engineering students) collaborate to share tools, materials and expertise on all sorts of creative and technical endeavors.
At the east end of the second floor, overlooking the main lobby, are three dedicated laboratory classrooms, one each for fluid dynamics, thermodynamics and instrumentation and controls.
Heading west across the bridge from the engineering labs, a door leads to a small, outdoor patio on the south side of the building. The patio is surrounded by a “green roof” of groundcover-like plants. UW-Extension will maintain the green roof, and participants in its Master Gardener program will maintain the gardens surrounding the building, including the Jim and Doris Madigan Rose Garden. Also, on the second floor, there are faculty offices and small gathering spaces for faculty-student and student-student collaboration.
Another collaborative area is an instructional kitchen shared by the extension staff and the University. The extension staff prepares food samples they take to public schools as part of their FoodShare education program, and the University conducts classes as part of its Nutritional Science and Dietetics program.
“None of us could have afforded an instructional facility of this quality by ourselves,” said Katers. “Together, though, we were able to do it. You can already see the benefits for UW-Extension, our University programs, and students from the Medical College of Wisconsin-Green Bay also receive instruction here. Eventually, this space will support our new Masters of Nutrition and Wellness program, expected to be in place by 2021.”
Even as Katers and his partners are racing to get the facility up to full speed, they are looking to the future.
“If you noticed, the sign near the donor wall in the lobby references ‘Phoenix Innovation Park,’” said Katers. “We have another 60-plus acres of land in this area for potential use. We don’t necessarily want to develop all of it, and we don’t have a timetable in mind, but now that we’ve made this partnership work, we’re open to other long-term aspirational partners who might want to develop their research and innovation operations here.”
If you can’t visit the Brown County STEM Innovation Center in person, take advantage of an online opportunity by searching “Brown County STEM Center Virtual Tour.”
–Story by freelance writer Jim Streed ’05