WCU board tours new Health, Human Sciences Building

The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees boldly went where no board had gone before as it toured the university’s new Health and Human Sciences Building currently nearing completion, a 160,000-square-foot facility characterized by technological elements that one trustee said seemed straight out of “Star Trek.”

Board members toured the new building Thursday, March 8, prior to their regularly scheduled meeting Friday, March 9.

The first building to be constructed on WCU’s West Campus, the facility is scheduled to be open for classes in the 2012 fall semester, some three years after ground was broken for the project in September 2009, said Linda Seestedt-Stanford, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. The four-story building nested into a hillside will become home base for about 1,200 students, including some 300 graduate students, Seestedt-Stanford said.

During a tour that lasted about an hour, trustees dodged construction crews putting the finishing touches on a wide variety of laboratories, classrooms and seminar rooms designed specifically for health-related teaching and learning. They learned of technological features including telecommunication and videoconferencing capabilities that will enable lecturers off site to meet live – virtually – with students, faculty or classes, and allow events in one area of the building to be video-streamed to other rooms in the building.

Seestedt-Stanford described how a tiny camera could be used to diagnose swallowing problems often encountered by stroke survivors, with images from that camera beamed to secured clinical locations in the building or to collaborating clinicians off site, and how a hydrotherapeutic pool donated by MedWest-Harris for teaching and performing aquatic therapy would allow physical therapy practitioners and students to observe patients through a camera mounted beneath the pool.

After the tour, Joan MacNeill, chair of the board, compared many of the building’s features to items from the futuristic television show “Star Trek,” and said those high-tech aspects will help the university create the public-private partnerships that are the hallmark of the university’s Millennial Initiative.

The building is the first to be constructed on 344 acres WCU acquired across N.C. Highway 107 from the main campus as part of the Millennial Initiative, a comprehensive regional economic development strategy that involves private industry and government partners.

The facility is expected to become the hub of a new health sciences neighborhood, which will expand partnership opportunities with private clinics and other health care providers to enhance hands-on student learning and foster collaborative research and development of scientific and technological innovations with potential commercial applications.

“The important thing to keep in mind about these public-private partnerships is that they will be undertaken in consultation with our faculty, and in support of student learning,” MacNeill said. “They will enable our students to gain the skills they need for successful health care careers of today’s high-tech world.”

Moving into the new building will be WCU’s undergraduate and graduate programs in social work and communication sciences and disorders; graduate programs in physical therapy and health sciences; and undergraduate programs in nursing, athletic training, emergency medical care, environmental health, nutrition and dietetics, and recreational therapy.