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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Better Together

In the 1920s and ’30s, Robert Pott was an Evansville luminary, an engineer and inventor best known for developing an impact wrench that was patented by Ingersoll Rand. Pott, the namesake of the University of Southern Indiana’s Pott College of Science and Engineering, “was one of those folks who would take something from a concept to its sales and marketing,” says Scott Gordon, dean of the Pott College. “That’s a rare person who can do that.”

Pott’s combination of engineering know-how and business savvy was one of the factors that, several years ago, compelled USI leaders to pursue a creative new partnership: co-location in the new Business and Engineering Center, a $31.9 million building project that fronts USI’s quadrangle. Two years after breaking ground, the four-story facility will open to students and begin hosting classes on August 30.

With its brick, glass, and limestone exterior, the Business and Engineering Center blends with the other buildings fronting the quad: the David L. Rice Library, the University Center, and the Liberal Arts Center. However, its bold, angular façade hints at the modern technology and ideas that lie inside the walls.

Business and engineering may seem an unlikely pairing. But years ago, as Gordon spoke with engineers about their education and careers, a common sentiment emerged. “Engineers tended to be engineers for a set number of years before they moved into business or management positions,” says Gordon, and they admitted that a business education would have eased the transition. Likewise, after business graduates headed out into the technology-heavy work world, many noted that they would better understand their companies’ products if they knew more about science and technology.

Gordon and Mohammed Khayum, dean of USI’s College of Business, agreed that both colleges would benefit from a collaborative environment — and a bigger facility, since both programs were outgrowing their respective spaces in the Technology Center and the Robert D. Orr Center. The creation of the Business and Engineering Center already has sparked ideas for new academic programs: an undergraduate engineering/business degree, a Master of Business Administration program for engineers, and an engineering management master’s degree. A new entrepreneurship minor beginning this fall has attracted student enrollment across various academic departments. The program will teach students about a product’s life cycle, from design and fabrication to sales and marketing.

Leaders of the business and engineering programs have lofty goals for their students, and the slate-floored atrium that welcomes them into the new building is appropriately grand. The ceiling stretches four stories high, and sunlight pours in through a clerestory window to illuminate the building’s interior spaces.

The clerestory is one element of green building that was incorporated into the facility, designed by Evansville architecture firm Hafer Associates. USI isn’t pursuing LEED certification for the new center, says USI staff architect and construction manager Fred Kalvelage, but the Business and Engineering Center showcases many of the principles of LEED. Those principles include sourcing materials from within a 500-mile radius (the limestone was quarried in Bedford, Ind.), using motion sensor lighting, and incorporating natural light to cut energy costs.

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Further brightening the building are two two-story “light wells,” openings in the roof modeled after those used in 1920s urban skyscrapers. Light wells originally were designed because electricity was unreliable and expensive. Now, to conserve energy, “we’re going back to what they were doing in 1920,” Kalvelage says. The bottoms of the light wells are furnished with tables and chairs to serve as second-floor, open-air courtyards for students.

While the light wells are a touch with a historic influence, the classroom and laboratory spaces are purely modern. Business and engineering students share numerous spaces such as classrooms, computer labs, and boardrooms, but each department also has areas especially for its students. On the lower level are several engineering labs: an optics lab, a materials testing lab, and a so-called “dirty lab” where students mix concrete for projects such as Concrete Canoe, an intercollegiate engineering competition. Other engineering facilities include a design lab and a radiofrequency shielding room that resembles a futuristic bunker. The shielding room, with a heavy door and walls made from two sheets of metal, blocks out all electronic interference. The room serves as a testing space for components, including wireless technologies.

Areas designed specifically for business students include a stock trading lab (complete with a live ticker), an entrepreneurship lab where special paint allows students to write on the walls and erase their work, and a sales lab with a central “control room.” Khayum envisions this area being used for presentations and focus groups. For example, he says, if a local business or a student group wants to evaluate how a focus group reacts to a new advertisement, leaders or executives can sit in the control room (surrounded by tinted glass) and observe the reactions, unseen by the group.

Gordon and Khayum also envision students collaborating outside the classroom. In 2008, USI received a Lilly Endowment grant to establish combined business/engineering co-ops that send groups of students to work at local companies. The deans also plan to encourage participation in competitions such as the 2010 Ideation Contest, sponsored by Escalade Sports, an Evansville-headquartered company that produces and distributes pool tables, table tennis equipment, and other sporting goods. The contest will challenge students to develop a new outdoor game that Escalade could produce and market, and the company will reward the winners with cash and internships.

The Ideation Contest is a preview of opportunities and challenges that USI students will face when they finish school and launch their careers. While 20th century inventor Robert Pott was renowned as a visionary for his skills as an engineer and a businessman, the two careers increasingly overlap and intertwine in the modern world, say Khayum and Gordon. In the Business and Engineering Center, says Gordon, “we want to show students the whole product life cycle.”

On Oct. 10, the Business and Engineering Center hosts a grand opening and invites the public to tour the new building from 2-4 p.m. See www.usi.edu for details on the event and the Business and Engineering Center.
 

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