UMD's New Science Building is
a Showpiece on Campus.
James I. Swenson
Wild Rice Demonstration Project
and Named Rooms
About the Building
The James I. Swenson Science Building houses 16 research
labs, 16 teaching labs that also function as classrooms, a computer
lab, a student study room, and one “classroom only” space.
More than 1,000 students per semester will use the building.
The ground floor of the building is used for environmental
biology, because of the easy access from the loading dock to bring in
samples from the outdoor learning areas. The other two floors are for
cellular and molecular biology and chemistry. The new labs are very
well equipped with modern instrumentation. The inside corridors are
lined with specialized rooms for jointly used equipment, tissue culture
facilities, and temperature control.
UMD is a premier center for undergraduate education and
scientific research. It is a national leader in undergraduate research.
As science and technology advance in the world, the James I. Swenson
Science building goes a long way in helping UMD maintain its leadership
role as a provider of quality scientific programs.
By offering an inviting, stimulating work environment
with world-class research and instructional facilities, students, faculty,
and researchers will be challenged to do their best. The sophisticated
classroom/laboratories and research areas will promote interaction and
The existing Chemistry Building was inadequate. Chemistry
and biology faculty and students were unable to conduct modern experiments
safely in the Chemistry and Life Science Buildings because they didn’t
have the proper equipment, ventilation, or safety protections. The laboratory
tabletops were nicked and worn because they had been in the building
As the multi-year project neared completion, a devastating
event threatened to alter plans. In mid-November 2004, three juvenile
vandals entered the James I. Swenson Science Building and caused $8
million in damages. They broke windows, discharged fire extinguishers,
and left water faucets running. However, UMD’s commitment to its
students and excellence prevailed, and students began using the building
in the summer of 2005, right on time.
UMD is proud to have the James I. Swenson Science Building
and looks forward to furthering its achievement as a leader in undergraduate
research. Thank you to the many contributors who were involved in making
this project a success.
THE TEACHING LABORATORIES
The Swenson teaching laboratory concept is innovative in that it combines
classroom and laboratory settings within the same space. Chemistry Professor
Robert Carlson said, “UMD may be the only university in the country
with this configuration. There are no lab benches. Instead, students
start the class together, conduct experiments and return to the group
at the end of the class.” In each of the 16 teaching labs, the
professor can make a presentation in the classroom area, which is equipped
with the technology to show PowerPoint presentations, scientific drawings,
spreadsheets, and other media. After the instruction, the professor
will release the students to the laboratory areas to practice what was
just presented. Of course, chemistry students must be wearing safety
glasses when they are in proximity to chemicals. Two students work as
a team under each safety hood. The building is equipped with 140 hooded
safety stations. After the experiments are completed, students return
to the classroom area to recap the session and share their findings.
“These labs function just like a real research lab,” said
Carlson. “The students work in teams, just as they would on academic
or industrial research projects. They learn to communicate and defend
The Research Labs were designed using an open lab concept to encourage
interaction between all researchers in related disciplines. A long lab
configuration spans the length of the research wing, with three or four
research bays defined within the span. The open lab structure also enables
spaces to expand and contract according to the research schedule, ensuring
that there is little under-utilized space. The open lab concept allows
even temporarily vacant areas to be fully used by other faculty and
students. This concept comes with its own protocol. All designated students
and faculty have access to controlled areas by way of a special key
card. The card ensures that only those with appropriate equipment and
safety training are allowed entry. Each research area has an area suitable
for undergraduate research. Undergraduates often are able to work on
the same projects as faculty and graduate students.
I Swenson: Building a Dream
The James I. Swenson Science Building would only be a dream
without the help of the Swenson Family Foundation, and support of its
director, James I. Swenson, a 1959 graduate of UMD. The construction was
made possible by the largest single gift ever given to UMD, $10 million.
The Swenson gift includes $2.5 million in continued commitment to science
student scholarships and undergraduate chemistry research programs, and
$7.5 million toward the building. Jim Swenson is an energetic, creative
man whose roots lie deep in the Northland. He was born in Superior, Wis.,
and is the eldest of five brothers. Growing up, Jim worked several jobs,
including a paper route that he held for nine years, right through high
After his mother’s death in 1955, Jim and his father
worked hard. Jim helped keep the family together by working for his dad
at Eddy’s Bakery and cleaning carpets for the father of his future
wife, Sue. He began college at UWS and transferred to UMD to enroll in
the chemistry department, where he termed his learning experiences “outstanding.”
Although things seemed to be looking up for Jim, he faced
a dilemma when his cash-strapped aunt asked if he could help her by paying
a year’s rent up front. Jim did not want to drop out of school,
but he didn’t know what else he could do. Swenson’s mentor,
Superior banker Bob Banks, gave him a personal loan of $900 that allowed
Jim to continue on his education at UMD. “I’ve been blessed
with more than I ever thought possible,” Swenson said. “It’s
time to give some of that back.” Working in the UMD chemistry lab
doing peat research, Swenson says he received much individual attention,
outstanding career counseling and “a real feel for industry and
research.” Those are things he wishes to help pass on to future
generations of students at UMD. He graduated from UMD in 1959 with a bachelor’s
degree in chemistry, a degree that he says made his tremendous success
possible. He and Susan Locken, his high school sweetheart, were married
that same summer. After returning from the military, he proceeded to work
for eight different large corporations, including Honeywell and Univac.
“I did not feel comfortable in the large corporate structure,”
he said. With four employees and a $15,000 second mortgage on his house,
Swenson began his own company – a small printed circuit shop. His
goal was “to bring high technology printed circuits out of research
and into industry.”
They created the “inner layer details” for printed
circuit boards. His company, Details, Inc., became the fastest quick-turn-around
engineering prototype circuit board shop in the United States. Circuit
board designers wanted
someone to turn their designs into working prototypes in a matter of days.
Trouble was, it took most companies weeks to produce the five or six boards
designers wanted. Swenson’s new company promised to produce prototype
boards in a few days. “The secret of his success was that he did
something no one else was doing,” said 1973 UMD alumnus Dan Shogren,
Swenson’s first sales representative. “He would deliver a
product in a week when it took some companies six to eight weeks. “He
wasn’t selling a product. He was selling time,” Shogren said.
The company’s client list included Compaq, IBM, Apple and Motorola.
Sales reached $22 million a year in the late 1980s. At the time of his
retirement in 1997, when Details, Inc. was sold, it had 480 employees,
and Jim Swenson knew them all personally.
Jim and Susan Swenson now live in California and visit their
native Northland frequently. Jim Swenson wants the Swenson Family Foundation
to help others because of the help extended to him in his early years
as a college student at UMD. More than 70 students are studying chemistry
and biochemistry at UMD and UWS on scholarships from the foundation.The
four-year scholarships are awarded to promising students who don’t
have enough money to pay for college. Swenson also funds 10 summer research
internships at UMD.
“This is so these kids can work on research instead
of getting summer jobs flipping burgers at the Miller Hill Mall,”
Swenson said. At UMD, the foundation has already given dozens of promising
students an opportunity to achieve their dreams.
Jim Swenson had an active interest in the James I. Swenson
Science Building from the beginning. As he traveled back and forth from
his home in California and his home in Iron River, Wis., he stopped to
check on the progress at UMD.
“The value and gratification to me is enormous,”
Grand Opening and Dedication Week
back to top
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Opening of the Tweed Museum of Art exhibit of works by architects
Tweed Museum of Art exhibit, “UMD’s Swenson
Science Building: Architect, Engineer, Artist”
3 pm. Lecture by John David Mooney
3:45 pm. Lecture by Carol Ross Barney
4:45 pm. Reception in the Tweed Museum of Art
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Celebrate Student Research in CSE
3 – 5 p.m. Poster Sessions of Student Research – Atrium
2005 Academy of Science and Engineering Events
1 p.m. Lecture by inductee Dr. Kathleen R. Annette (1977 Chemistry),
2 p.m. Lecture by inductee Dr. Brian Kobilka (1977 Biology and Chemistry),
5:30 p.m. Reception for the Academy of Science and Engineering -
6:30 p.m. Dinner, Academy presentations and talk by Dr. James Gentile,
president, Research Corporation.
Call 218-726-6995 for dinner reservations
Friday, September 16, 2005
11 a.m. Grand Opening of Swenson Science Building – Atrium.
Guided tours of Swenson Science Building beginning immediately after
Wild Rice Demonstration Project
Learning isn’t confined to the inside of the James
I. Swenson Science Building. There’s lots to see outside as well.
The concept for the site plan, designed by Oslund and Associates, embraces
the idea that seeing is critical to understanding.
Activities normally conducted behind closed doors are
revealed. The glass-walled atrium adds a sense of transparency, allowing
views of the exterior where interactive outdoor learning and contemplative
spaces are found. A small fishpond, home to minnows and other small
fish, is found on the southeast side of the building and provides easy
access for student observation. A unique feature is the wild rice stand,
located at a water level conducive to its growth. Oslund said, “Wild
rice was chosen for its symbolism and importance to the Native American
population of northern Minnesota.” John Pastor, professor, Department
of Biology, is studying wild rice and its four-year boom and bust cycle.
Pastor, with the help of Fond du Lac staff members Nancy
Costa, Jeff Schulte, and Larry Schwarzkopf, wrote a proposal to the
National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct his wild rice life-cycle
project. The student researchers who work with Pastor, most of whom
are tribal members, are chosen by the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community
College, another player in the project. The research project focuses
on the way wild rice propagates. The straw dies back in the fall and
the plant grows from seed each spring. The straw releases nutrients,
but not until summer, after the plant is mature. The research project
will help to determine the role the nutrient pattern plays in its cycle.
Pastor said that this wild rice pond will teach more than just science.
It will also serve as a catalyst for learning about Native American
history and culture.
In the 1850s when Minnesota Native Americans signed the
first treaties with the U.S. government, Native Americans didn’t
understand that the wild rice lakes wouldn’t be shared. They were
forced to stay on reservations and as the wild rice went through its
natural bust cycles, the Native Americans weren’t able to travel
to prolific wild rice lakes. Some of them actually starved. The new
logging industry methods, with dams and logs floating to the sawmill,
compounded the problem. Those dams caused flooding. The wild rice died
as the water depth changed and logs ripped out the wild rice stands.
The UMD wild rice stand, positioned against a backdrop
of trees and outdoor spaces, forms a link to the campus landscape and
to the overarching northern Minnesota native ecosystem. UMD teaches
planting methods that call for a variety of tree and shrub species in
order to encourage a more natural ecosystem.
The James I. Swenson Science Building demonstration pond
and the Bagley Nature Area are outdoor classrooms for UMD science students.
“You can count on one hand the campuses in the U.S. that have
nature areas adjoining the campuses,” Pastor said. The wild rice
pond will change during the four years students are at UMD. “In
a way,” Pastor said, “it will demonstrate a life lesson
for students. Nature is dynamic, so are students. Wild rice goes through
four years of changes, just like the students.”
Donors and Named Rooms
Named Wall Plaques for Atrium
UMD is most grateful to the following generous donors who
have made gifts for named wall plaques or areas within the James I. Swenson
Science Building. The gifts are being used by the Department of Chemistry
and Biochemistry and the Department of Biology to support student scholarships,
research, and equipment.
Samuel and Ardis Beard
Edward Thorwald Bersu – To honor faculty and family of Edward Bersu
Tricia and Richard Bunten
Norman W. and Joan Gill
Donald Harriss and Patricia Merrier
Richard and Patricia Hoff
H. W. S. Huseby, MD and Nancy Huseby
Jerome and Harriet Klun
Gerald and Bonnie Niemi
Helen Nygard – in memory of Barbara Nygard Wilson
Theron E. Odlaug – in memory of Theron O. Odlaug
Lynda and Albert Parrella
John Pastor and Mary Dragich
James and Cecelia Riehl
Kenneth E. Solie and Jeanette Darland Solie
Drs. John and Susan Streitz
Charles W. and Joan S. Taylor
Donald and Suzanne Torgerson
Gabriel d’ A. Venticinque
Richard and Joan Wilson
Dr. Theron O. Odlaug Biology Teaching Laboratory
Dr. Theron E. Odlaug made a generous gift to UMD to honor the legacy of
his uncle, Dr. Theron O. Odlaug, who began his career at the former Duluth
State Teachers College in 1945 as a professor of zoology. Professor Theron
O. Oldaug spent 20 years as the head of UMD’s Department of Biology.
James C. “Charlie” Nichol Computer Laboratory
Gifts were made by former students and other Chemistry faculty to honor
Emeritus Chemistry Professor Charlie Nichol, who taught at UMD from 1957-1992.
He has continued to teach periodically at UMD in his retirement, as recently
as Fall 2004.
Charles W. and Joan S. Taylor Organic Chemistry Laboratory
Dr. Chuck Taylor is a 1952 graduate of UMD and was one of the first students
in the existing Chemistry Building.
Kenneth E. Solie and Jeanette Darland Solie Student Study
Kenneth Solie and Jeanette Darland Solie are 1959 graduates of UMD and
classmates of Jim Swenson. Jeanette is the daughter of Ray Darland, former
Barbara Nygard Wilson Biology Seminar Room
Barbara Nygard Wilson was a biology graduate of UMD, who left an estate
gift to UMD when she passed away two years ago. Barbara’s mother,
Helen Nygard, made a gift in memory of her daughter to name the seminar
Jerome and Harriet Klun Conference Room
Jerome Klun is a 1952 biology graduate of UMD who works at the Walter
Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Springs, MD. In the fall of
2002, Jerome Klun was inducted into the UMD Academy of Science and Engineering.
Mani and Sikander M. Karim Classroom
This gift was made by the Karim family to honor the memory of Mani and
Sikander M. Karim.
Written by Cheryl Reitan. Posted August 24, 2005
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