It’s hard to imagine the act of dropping a load of dirt from a bulldozer’s bucket taking on more symbolism than what an overflow crowd witnessed Tuesday during the groundbreaking ceremony for the University of Nevada, Reno’s new Davidson Mathematics and Science Center.
Liquid nitrogen strapped inside the bucket – sending dirt and a cloud of smoke cascading onto what College of Science Interim Dean Jeff Thompson called a “scientific vault” full of artifacts commemorating all aspects of the college – created the type of magical scene that University administrators hope will become commonplace for the new building.
“This building has long been in the dream stage,” University President Milton Glick said, noting that the Davidson Mathematics and Science Center is the first new capital project for the natural sciences on the campus in nearly 40 years. “This will make a difference. This will be part of how we make progress in becoming one of America’s great universities.”
State Sen. William Raggio, a longtime advocate for higher education and on hand for Tuesday’s ceremony, agreed: “I’ve looked forward to this not only for a few weeks, but for decades. … This is another crown jewel in the University of Nevada campus.”
Thompson, Glick and Raggio all noted that without the support of Bob and Jan Davidson, the building would have never advanced much beyond the “dream stage.” The Davidsons, educational innovators and founders of the University's Davidson Academy of Nevada, provided a $16 million gift to the University that included an $11 million investment in the Mathematics and Science Center.
Jan Davidson was quick to point out, however, that as magical as the building might be once it opens in August 2010, it will only be as good as the people working inside.
“This is an investment in the future,” she said. “We’re not only investing in the building, we are investing in the faculty (of the College of Science). It’s not about the building. It’s about the people inside.
“I’m counting on all of you to ignite that (educational) flame in lots and lots of students.”
Bob Davidson said the new building will be central to creating the diversified, knowledge-based economy that Nevada needs.
“This faculty and this University can create that talent pool,” he said of the potential Nevada graduates who will use the facility. It is estimated that 80 percent of Nevada’s nearly 17,000-student enrollment, will take classes or use the 105,000-square-foot, $50-million building in some form.
“This University,” Bob Davidson added, “is not just another university. It’s a national research university and it’s important that math and science be represented at a national research university.”
The building, in addition to providing much-needed classroom space for students, will enhance the University’s experiential learning and provide a centralized location for the College of Science.
“We shall see learning that takes place in this building that will indeed shape the community,” Thompson said.
In addition to the great benefits accrued from a state-of-the-art learning environment, Glick said he was struck by the building’s symbolism, and what it should mean not only to the College of Science faculty, staff and students, but to all of campus.
“These kinds of movements, even in difficult times, reinforce to our faculty and students that progress must continue to take place,” he said. “We know that the University’s real competition is Berkeley, and Wisconsin … China and India. We must be able to compete in this modern, technologically driven environment.”
A little magic to help move the dirt, then, was entirely appropriate as the University ushered in a new era in its growth.
“This is a great university,” Raggio, a Nevada alumnus, said, drawing a loud cheer from the crowd. “And this is a crown jewel in that title.”