Innovation and Creativity Flourish in Ingram Hall
A new and exciting presence on Texas State University’s San Marcos campus opened its doors in fall 2018: Bruce and Gloria Ingram Hall.
Ingram Hall — the university’s largest academic building — is an innovative addition to the College of Science and Engineering and Texas State as a whole. The new building is full of features to enhance learning and research across disciplines. Large and small classrooms, labs and offices accommodate the growing college. New equipment, facilities and design strategies provide opportunities to push boundaries. Christine Hailey, dean of the College of Science and Engineering, describes Ingram Hall as a welcoming space that supports learning and collaboration for both students and faculty.
From top to bottom, the five floors of Ingram Hall are designed to support active discovery in science and engineering. The building features classrooms that are set up to facilitate group discussions and hands-on, experimental learning. This is especially important for introductory core courses that large numbers of students need to take — the goal is to make these classes, traditionally taught as lectures, more interactive.
In Ingram Hall’s large active-learning classrooms, the instructor does not lecture from the front of the room. Rather, there’s a workstation in the center from which the instructor can briefly explain foundational concepts before the students take the lead. Round tables seating up to nine people make conversation easy, with student talk shifting organically among the whole table or within smaller subgroups of two to four. There’s space for the instructor and undergraduate Physics Learning Assistants to drop in for guidance as needed while moving around the room. After a few short instructions, students dive into working together on a problem set or an experiment. Whiteboards and computer screens at every side of the room allow for jotting down notes and sharing ideas with the entire class. (This teaching and design philosophy is known as “student-centered active learning environments for undergraduate programs,” or SCALE-UP.)
Flexibility is a key, intentional feature of the classrooms. Dr. Hunter Close, associate professor of physics, was one of the members of the Interactive Classrooms committee for Ingram Hall as the building was being designed. “It’s very easy to shift between small-group interactions and presentation to the whole class,” he says. “Each course has an intellectual arc or development: You answer a question or solve a problem, and this new clarity often raises new questions, which might be best addressed with different tools or a different instructional format. The flexibility of the room makes it so that the material structure of the environment is not the limiting factor for the growth of ideas.” Activities in these classrooms include reasoning through conceptual or logic questions, practicing quantitative calculations, simulating physics with computer code, watching short videos of phenomena and performing lab experiments.
Active learning like this, in which students apply course topics to immediate, concrete problems, “helps students have an appreciation for how scientists think, how mathematicians think,” says Hailey.
Ingram Hall’s student-driven learning thrives outside the classroom as well. The new building now houses the Collaborative Learning Center, a computer lab and tutoring space for all the academic areas within the college. The computers have specialized software commonly used in the college’s courses, but it’s the human resources that stand out most. The student tutors are Bobcats from H-LSAMP, the Houston-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. This program aims to increase the number of traditionally underrepresented students who earn bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, and to prepare them for careers. As part of the program, all H-LSAMP scholars are tutors during their junior and senior years. While they’re reinforcing their own understanding of the ideas, they’re helping others. “The scholars help freshmen and sophomores understand concepts through the voice of a student rather than a professor,” Hailey says proudly.
Alongside the formal spaces for classes and tutoring, Ingram Hall boasts a coffee bar, a general study area, a variety of alcoves and “huddles” for small group work, and outdoor seating areas. The entire enterprise is meant to evoke community.
Cultivating Collaboration in the Lab
The community feel of Ingram Hall includes faculty as well as students. In the double-wide lab spaces, researchers interested in similar ideas can work on their projects side by side and get insights from each other. This is exemplified on the building’s fifth floor, which is dedicated to microbiology, cell biology and environmental engineering.
“Engineering talk and biology talk are difficult,” admits Dittmar Hahn, chair of the Department of Biology. “You usually don’t speak the same language or have the same goals. If you’re in the same building, on the same floor, it’s easier to connect.” The two departments are committed to developing closer relationships and promoting a cross-pollination of ideas. A large common area in the center of the labs is designed so that faculty can converse over lunch and graduate students can make valuable connections within and between fields. “It’s meant to foster collaboration and therefore increase productivity,” Hahn says. He hopes that the openness of the labs and casual spaces encourages graduate student researchers especially. “This is exactly what you need for learning. Students are more comfortable talking about their mistakes with each other than with their advisors. And you learn from mistakes.”
The laboratories themselves are world-class facilities. “Anything a microbiologist would want to grow or dissect or look at, they can do here,” says Hailey. All nine of the fifth-floor labs have a Biosafety Level 2 clearance, adding to two such labs in the Supple Science Building. This clearance level means that researchers have the capacity to work safely with infectious agents such as Salmonella or Cryptosporidium, which affect humans, along with animal pathogens affecting amphibians, reptiles and mammals.
The labs’ plant growth chambers allow researchers to control all aspects of the growing environment, from the amount and wavelength of available light to temperature, humidity and timing of day-night cycles. This highly controlled growth is vital to genetic research, in order to separate the effects of environmental factors from the effects of changes in the genes. According to Hahn, “much of the work here is with methods that are temperature-sensitive,” which is why Ingram Hall labs are equipped with cooled rooms or walk-in refrigerators. Some of the labs have controls for water quality and flow, or darkrooms to view fluorescent signals from specially prepared specimens.
Creating a Community of Makers
One of the Ingram Hall features that Hailey is most excited about is the 6,000-square-foot makerspace, located behind glass walls at the building’s main entrance. She says, “Before you innovate, deep in your heart you have to have a creative idea. Then comes innovation.” The makerspace encourages students to take their creative ideas and turn them into reality.
Equipment within the makerspace includes large and small 3D printers, soldering stations, laser cutters and engravers, metal and plastic mills, a large water jet table, tools for welding and shaping sheet metal, a woodworking shop and more. Much of the equipment is straight off an industrial production floor; the extent of metalworking tools sets Texas State’s makerspace apart from facilities at other universities.
What might students make here? “Everything!” says engineering faculty member and makerspace director Austin Talley. “I can’t wait to put this in the hands of students. I hope to see ideas that I’d never even envisioned they’d do with our equipment.” Talley explains that while some of the equipment already exists on campus in instructor-led classrooms, the new makerspace brings these tools into the open for students to use individually, outside the boundaries of specific assignments.
Student makers will get up and running through a combination of online and hands-on training, depending on the equipment. At first, the makerspace will be open for students in the Engineering and Engineering Technology programs — a large “test audience” of around 2,000 people. After the necessary procedures have been streamlined, the facility will be available to students from all majors, along with faculty and staff. It will also host visits from local schools. All of this is to “help people understand more about engineering,” says Talley, “both on campus and in the community.” To ensure that the makerspace serves everyone, especially women and members of other groups underrepresented in engineering, faculty from the College of Science and Engineering will partner with College of Education faculty to conduct research on the facility’s inclusive practices.
Legacy of Learning
Building a high-tech learning facility like Ingram Hall takes teamwork, dedication and foresight. "This building is many, many years in the making,” Hailey affirms.
The new home of the College of Science and Engineering was made possible through the generosity of Bruce and Gloria Ingram, longtime university supporters. Gloria and four generations of her family have attended Texas State. Bruce, founder of concrete manufacturing company Ingram Readymix Inc., provided critical guidance in establishing the university’s undergraduate program in concrete industry management in 2009, building upon the Ingrams’ 2006 gift toward the Ingram School of Engineering. In 2015, the Ingrams cemented their status as leaders of the Texas State community by providing funding and an in-kind gift of concrete for Bruce and Gloria Ingram Hall. The university is forever grateful to them.
Hailey also recognizes the commitment and support of President Denise Trauth, Provost Gene Bourgeois, former Ingram School of Engineering director Stan McClellan, and former deans Robert Habengreither and Stephen Seidman.
Hailey looks forward to the innovation and collaboration that will come from Ingram Hall over the years. She says: “It should help Texas State become even more well known for what we already do well, which is that wonderful combination of teaching and research.” ⭑
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