The new South Science Building at Williams College represents the school’s affirmation of their commitment to science. It’s evidence of the institution’s dedication to the form and the spirit of the liberal arts. With this new facility, Williams realizes a standard in the physical sciences that matches its excellence in the arts and humanities.
It’s no coincidence that Williams’s peer as a leading liberal arts institution, nearby Amherst College, has also recently opened a new science center. Both centers have been designed to serve as a locus for the study of the natural sciences within a citadel of the liberal arts. This demonstrates the high value that these two distinctive institutions place on a true liberal arts education.
Williams was #1 in 2019 in the U.S. News & World Report‘s rankings of national liberal arts colleges. Historically, either Williams or Amherst has been first and the other second in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Williams is #1 in the current rankings by Forbes and College Choice. It’s #2 in the Money rankings behind Washington & Lee and #2 In the New York Times rankings behind Amherst.
Williams College is a private liberal arts institution in Williamstown, MA. It was established in 1793 with funds from the estate of Ephraim Williams, a hero of the French and Indian War. The college is set on a bucolic 450-acre campus in the Berkshire Mountains in rural northwestern Massachusetts. The campus contains more than 100 academic, athletic, and residential buildings. There are 349 full-time faculty members, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 7:1. The school enrolls just over 2,000 undergraduate students along with and 57 graduate students in two developing graduate programs. Following a liberal arts curriculum, Williams provides undergraduate instruction in 25 academic departments and interdisciplinary programs and offers 36 majors in the humanities, arts, social sciences, and natural sciences.
Including both the Early Decision and Regular Decision cycles, 9,700 students applied to Williams for a spot in its Class of 2023. Of these applicants, 1,205 were admitted, or 12.4%. Williams’s planned class size this year is 550 students, its largest ever.
After three years of construction, Williams’s new $66 million, 78,000-square-foot South Science Building held its grand opening last summer. The building, at Walden Street and Morley Circle, houses research and teaching laboratories, shared equipment and support spaces, a microscopy suite, and faculty offices for the Biology, Chemistry, and Physics departments.
The completion of the South Science Building is the first of several steps in an expansion of the school’s science facilities that has been driven by rapid growth in the number of students majoring in the natural sciences. In 2000, about 27% of students were natural science majors. Today, they are 45%. The entire science center project will be completed in 2020 at a total cost of $204 million.
In addition to growth in student interest, another reason for the new facilities is that science education has changed in the last two decades as a result of innovations in technology and an increased focus on research, especially research that encompasses more than one discipline. The requirements of a science facility have evolved substantially in that they now must accommodate a larger set of of science and science-related fields. Majors offered at Williams now include Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy/Astrophysics, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Geoscience, Bioinformatics, Genomics, & Proteomics, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, and Neuroscience.
The two key features behind the design of the new science facility are embodied in the terms research and interdisciplinary. According to Chip Lovett, Chairman of the Bioinformatics, Genomics, & Proteomics program, “Faculty members are thrilled to bring their research projects to a state-of-the-art facility with ample space for the hundreds of Williams students who participate in faculty-student research every year. The new building promises to increase interactions between students and faculty from different laboratories and disciplines in beautifully designed spaces surrounded by stunning vistas.”
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