St. Thomas officially opened the doors on Feb. 5 to the Schoenecker Center, the university’s new central home for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) education. The five-level, 130,000-square-foot complex on Summit Avenue is poised to become a national model for interdisciplinary learning, uniquely positioned to prepare tomorrow’s graduates to work across fields and disciplines.
The Schoenecker Center features a host of marquee learning spaces for STEM and arts education, including an engineering high bay, a 150-seat music performance hall, science laboratories, emerging media studios and an art gallery.
Deans Don Weinkauf, School of Engineering, and Bill Tolman, College of Arts and Sciences, were thrilled to start welcoming the St. Thomas community inside the university’s new academic center.
“My favorite part of this building is not the building itself: it’s the excitement that comes from people as they walk into this space,” Weinkauf said ahead of opening day. “We hope they’ll take that excitement, that inspiration with them as they collaborate to solve some of society’s most pressing challenges.”
The STEAM complex houses multiple academic areas and interdisciplinary courses that bring together students of all backgrounds, and the building itself is designed to spark interest and creativity. Architects intentionally put learning on display using grand sight lines and thousands of square feet of interior glass.
“The juxtaposition of the arts with the sciences is something really special, and there’s almost no way you can miss it with all the glass leading you from room to room,” Tolman said. “It’s just a very transparent, experiential place, which makes it so incredibly innovative. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Classes on the first day showcased the exciting connections among STEAM fields. Nursing students took their first chemistry lab. Physics and engineering majors began experimenting in Electromagnetic Fields. And digital media arts majors enrolled in Game Production explored the facility’s gaming lab.
Geology major Jack Anglum ’24 enjoyed his first class of spring semester, Oceanography, in the Schoenecker Center’s new Earth, Environment, and Society teaching lab.
“It’s got that new building smell,” he said. “With all the glass and the open design, it’s going to engage a lot more students. It’s literally going to draw them in and inspire that innovation with all the hands-on learning.”
Right in the middle of the building is the new home for the Department of Emerging Media. E-media faculty member Dr. April Eichmeier welcomed a variety of science and communication majors to an interdisciplinary course titled Science, Media and Social Impact.
“Science affects people, and people affect science,” Eichmeier said. “A course like Science, Media and Social Impact aims to help ensure that we can work, ethically, toward ensuring that interaction benefits our society.”
Many of the e-media spaces look directly into the high bay for engineering, a two-floor space where big things get bent, broken and made. The working laboratory features a gigantic concrete wall that will serve as a base to test the strength of different objects. Charles Allhands, civil engineering lab manager, says the space will offer a novel experience for engineering undergrads.
“It’s rare to have a facility where students can actually take part in this large-scale testing,” Allhands said. “Doing the math in a classroom is one thing, being able to actually watch a physical test, to see the stresses and strains as something breaks down – it gives you a much more intuitive sense of how the math actually works.”
As the day progressed, music filled the Schoenecker Center for the very first time. The St. Thomas Chamber Singers and Orchestra were the first to practice in the performance and rehearsal halls.
“The performance hall is just so beautiful, with the light coming through the windows and all the amazing woodwork, but it’s also incredibly resonate,” said Brooke Vandervoort ’24, a music business major and member of the Chamber Singers. “This is going to be the perfect space to rehearse and also have our recitals.”
After 19 months of construction, faculty and staff received the green light to start moving into the Schoenecker Center on Jan. 12. Although the building is open for business, landscaping and miscellaneous projects will continue throughout the spring semester.
A ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremony is planned for May 8.