The Daily Gamecock

Column: USC needs to make major improvements to its STEM buildings

<p>USC faculty members walk outside of the Coker Life Sciences Building on Feb. 22, 2024. The building was built in 1973 and named after USC alumnus and board of trustees member David R. Coker.</p>
USC faculty members walk outside of the Coker Life Sciences Building on Feb. 22, 2024. The building was built in 1973 and named after USC alumnus and board of trustees member David R. Coker.

The university is hoping to make some major renovations to campus. Some include potential plans for a new student union or renovations to existing academic buildings.

But all of these hypothetical plans have one common denominator: The university is not prioritizing the existing STEM buildings on campus.

The university made some improvements for STEM faculty and students when it added the Science and Technology Building in 2020. This provided STEM students with more labs and classrooms supplied with the latest technology and equipment. 

But the university still needs to update its older STEM buildings, as plenty of faculty and students use them every day.

These buildings host biology students, who make up the third largest major at USC, and many other highly populated majors, so the facilities are constantly being used. 

The university needs to renovate these buildings to maintain a quality infrastructure for faculty and students to use. 

The Coker Life Sciences Building, Jones Physical Sciences Center and the Earth and Water Sciences Building are some of the main science buildings on campus. 

Eric Tappa is a research associate in the department of earth, ocean and environment. He said the Earth and Water Sciences Building's infrastructure can't adequately handle the needs of researchers working in that building. 

“It needs to be torn down and rebuilt,” Tappa said. "It's a 40-year-old building that can't handle most of the instrumentation we have." 

There are constantly things needing to be changed because of the old infrastructure, Tappa said. Working in the building, he has noticed that some counters require a lot of lead shielding, and because of that, the building had to be strengthened.

The building isn’t even sustainable enough to maintain the research facilities for professors to conduct work. Even with some of the smaller updates to the buildings, professors are unable to properly use the equipment. 

Thomas Vogt, a professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department, does research using electron microscopy at Coker. He researches in a $5 million facility that requires a low temperature to function, so it is important that the air handlers and temperature control work well. 

“We cannot do measurements at this microscope to its capability because we do not have the temperature concept, and that has to be related to two things,” Vogt said. “It's related to the fact that the infrastructure is very old, and it's related to the fact of how the building is actually being run.”

The university advertises itself as "one of the country's leading research institutions“ and emphasizes the value of the research being done at USC. 

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A student sits in a study area inside the Coker Life Sciences Building on Feb. 22, 2024. Coker is the home of the USC Department of Biological Sciences.

But it doesn't provide adequate facilities for the professors doing the work to make this a well-established research institution. This is unfair to the professors who work hard to conduct their research and contribute to USC's status as a flagship university for research.

The university needs to make sure it is providing sufficient infrastructure for professors teaching and researching in these buildings by listening to their complaints and making adjustments. 

“I think the classrooms just need to be remodeled because they're terrible," third-year pharmacy student Shahd Abdeladl said. "The ceilings are old, the walls, everything, the desks. There's nothing that doesn't need to be fixed."

The university needs to value its students and provide them with the resources for their future success, especially those in graduate programs working in the laboratories or taking classes in these buildings. 

“Our student lounge is packed with people, there's not even room for half of us to sit," Abdeladl said. "We do not have enough space at all. There's like two classrooms for 400 students."

USC’s College of Pharmacy, which is located in Coker, is one of the largest and oldest pharmacy schools in South Carolina, yet it still can’t accommodate the needs of students. 

Different healthcare professional students have their own buildings, such as those in the medical school and nursing school. Both of these professional schools are getting new buildings with new facilities.

The least the university can do for the pharmacy students is add more classroom space and update the facilities within Coker and the rest of the buildings. Better architectural planning could be done to provide more study spaces for these graduate students.  

“One thing I have noticed is, in the Jones building, there's not like a single water fountain in sight, so I always end up having to walk over to Coker to fill my water and stuff like that,” second-year biology student Layth Yousfi said. 

With tons of students attending classes in these buildings, they need to have better access to water fountains, with more water bottle fillers, to make sure they stay hydrated. Keeping these fountains in out-of-sight crevices is a nuisance for people in the building, so the issue needs to be resolved.  

“I honestly think the bathroom stalls, everything needs to be redone. If you go to the second floor, that bathroom is falling apart,” first-year undeclared student Francelis Rivera said. 

The lack of proper bathroom facilities in Coker and Jones is pathetic. There are multiple faculty members and students who are in and out of the bathroom every day, yet there doesn’t seem to be any rush to update these necessary spaces.

There also needs to be more bathrooms in place, especially for women, to accommodate the faculty and student needs.

For both faculty and students, the building does not provide a conducive environment where work and learning can take place. 

It is not as if the university lacks the budget to improve these buildings. The university has recently proposed to rebuild the student union, and one estimate showed that the building could cost $240 million. Instead, some of the money could go to maintaining the infrastructure of its academic buildings and improving its facilities. 

The quality of education the university strives for needs to match its infrastructure to show how much it values its faculty and students. Faculty and students shouldn’t have to deal with these subpar facilities. They deserve an environment that fosters advanced technology and good infrastructure. 

The university needs to reevaluate its priorities and invest more in its STEM buildings across campus for the betterment of STEM faculty and students.


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