ORANGE CITY, Iowa -- Northwestern College students are preparing for a wide variety of scientific careers in the new $24.5 million Jack and Mary DeWitt Family Science Center, which was completed in the fall of 2018.
“This building is going to excite students to study science,” says David Rowley, a Northwestern senior biology-ecological science major from Las Vegas. “It’s awesome when you have a brand new facility how the motivation and enthusiasm for doing something just skyrockets.”
The 61,000-square-foot facility houses classrooms, laboratories and faculty offices for the departments of biology, chemistry and nursing. The building puts science on display, with large windows to the outdoors and into classrooms and laboratories.
Eco-friendly and state-of-the-art, the DeWitt Family Science Center is designed to support the research that is built into courses starting as early as a Northwestern student’s first year. Expanded research space also allows for long-running experiments — important for collaborative faculty-student research that prepares students for graduate school admittance and success. The nursing floor, meanwhile, features mock exam, obstetrics, pediatrics, and medical/surgery rooms — each equipped with human patient simulators that give students realistic hands-on experience before they start their clinical rotations.
The building also includes a 960-square-foot greenhouse and a $100,000 gene sequencer, enabling Northwestern to join the University of Iowa and Iowa State University as the only higher education institutions in the state with that scientific instrument.
“We want to use this both for research and for teaching,” Dr. Sara Sybesma Tolsma, professor of biology, says of the sequencer. “It’s a very sensitive piece of equipment and it’s expensive to run, but we’re going to involve students as much as we can and still be good stewards of the costs associated with it.”
Tolsma anticipates a variety of ways Northwestern will use its gene sequencer. The college is part of the national SEA-PHAGES program, which is designed to interest undergraduates in scientific research by making them part of a global effort to discover phages, or viruses that infect bacteria. All of the students in Microbiology want to have the phages they discovered sequenced, but that process costs $250 per phage when done by another institution. By having its own sequencer, Northwestern will be better able to meet that demand.
Tolsma and Dr. Laurie Furlong, another member of Northwestern’s biology department, will also use the sequencer to research the gene expression of mayflies in different environments. Their chemistry department colleagues, meanwhile, are interested in confirming gene mutations made in site-directed mutagenesis.
The DeWitt Family Science Center is named in honor of Jack and Mary DeWitt of Holland, Michigan, who contributed the $6 million lead gift for the building — the largest single gift in Northwestern’s history. Jack DeWitt died June 22, 2018, at the age of 75 after a battle with brain cancer.
Speaking at the building’s dedication on Sept. 28, Mary DeWitt said, “I know God resides on our campus because I’ve seen it and I’ve felt it. If Jack were here, I know he would say, ‘Wow, this is beautiful!’ Our family’s desire is to honor God in all we do, and we know God will be honored through the science center. My prayer is that what students learn in this building will be used to glorify God in their careers.”
The science center was part of a $30 million Discover Campaign that also included funds for the building’s maintenance, science scholarships and undergraduate research fellowships.