Renovations in MRC, Brace Lab aid learning

Mathematics graduate student Jessalyn Bolkema (right) teaches a section of Math 101: College Algebra in a renovated classroom in Brace Laboratory in October 2014.

Renovations in two City Campus buildings have improved the delivery method for mathematics instruction.

An $8 million renovation has converted UNL’s 107-year-old Brace Laboratory into a facility dedicated to using innovative teaching methods to further undergraduate education and a small renovation to the Math Resource Center in Avery Hall has enlarged the amount of functional space for helping students with their study of mathematics.

Initial users of the renovated space in Brace include mathematics, biological and life sciences, and business administration. Much of the project has been focused on providing collaborative learning spaces to undergraduates. While lecture courses remain useful, research in the last 20 to 30 years has shown that in many cases, students benefit from a more active and collaborative approach, said Lance C. Pérez, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.

The updated building, originally used for physics instruction, now possesses four life sciences laboratories and support space; a 186-seat auditorium; four classrooms dedicated to active and collaborative instruction; a Technology Transforming Teaching (T3) classroom where instructors can use and evaluate cutting-edge teaching technologies from furniture to advanced computerized devices; and office space that will allow Information Technology Services employees to provide classroom and learning support.

The collaborative classrooms for mathematics each seat 42 students, with the furniture set up to seat seven groups of six. The space also includes multiple white boards to promote interactive learning and group discussions.

“Mathematics has invested in professional development and is completely updating how they teach many of their 100-level courses,” Pérez said. “The focus will be on small groups working together.”

The life sciences labs in Brace include three modern “wet” labs and a space designed for virtual instruction. The four lab spaces are designed to be similar to recent updates to chemistry labs in Hamilton Hall, with “islands” that allow students to face one another for group work. The College of Business Administration will be a primary user of the redesigned 186-seat auditorium. A portion of the funding for Brace was provided by the Nebraska Legislature.

In an effort to find more space for students needing mathematics assistance from the counselors, the Department of Mathematics’ Math Resource Center was renovated in May and June of this year. The two small conference rooms inside the MRC were removed to transform the room into one large space.

“I wanted to make it a warm and inviting atmosphere,” said Lori Mueller, academic advisor and MRC supervisor, who chose paint colors that included an accent wall with the signature Husker red and the rest of the room as a warm tan shade. “A lot of students that struggle with math first have to battle trying to admit they need more help. Our counselors make them feel comfortable and help calm their anxieties. To me, warm colors also calm the nerves.”

Amy Goodburn, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, appreciates the effort made by mathematics to provide better service to new students.

“Studies show that success in first-year math courses is critical to college students’ retention and degree completion rates,” Goodburn said. “The Math Resource Center is a vital partner in supporting UNL students’ academic success. With this renovation, we hope that even more students will take advantage of this free and important service.”

- Troy Fedderson, University Communications, and Lindsay Augustyn