This fall, the University of Houston-Clear Lake opened both a science, technology, engineering and math—or STEM—building and a recreation and wellness center. In fall 2019 the school will open new residence halls—a first for the campus.
At the start of the spring semester the university will open a health sciences and classrooms building on its Pearland campus, a branch of UHCL.
UHCL has planned for years to expand its campus, said Steven Berberich, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.
Expansion includes adding much-needed space and technology for popular programs as well as finding innovative ways to meet student and community needs, Berberich said.
“We certainly have a community outreach as part of our definition. In some ways that distinguishes us from other universities,” said Rick Short, dean of the College of Human Sciences and Humanities.
The university was originally created in 1971 as a pipeline to provide NASA with educated workers. While that is no longer the main goal, the university’s graduates still boost the local economy, said Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.
“It is huge economic driver because we have to provide a pipeline of students to support our industry clusters, and the University of Houston-Clear Lake provides that—even more so now because it is a four-year university,” Mitchell said.
THE FOUR-YEAR FEELING
As UHCL transitioned from a two- to a four-year university in 2014, the campus expansion was brought on to accommodate the needs of the growing university, Berberich said.
Since transitioning, the university has added nearly 400 students, with over 9,000 students attending the university in fall 2018—a record number for the university.
As of spring 2018, most of the students at the university are undergraduate students, as well as part-time students.
Berberich said adding buildings such as the recreation and wellness center and the residence halls adds to the four-year experience.
“It has really created a remarkable university feel to the place,” Berberich said.
The recreation and wellness center has more equipment than the old recreation center and is open to the community as well. The center also offers smaller classrooms for workout classes, as well as a weight room, several courts and an indoor track. The center has been a need for years, Short said.
“Prior to having this building the only fitness facility we had on campus was a repurposed room,” Short said. “It simply was not adequate to address even a campus size much smaller than us. This allows us to catch up in some ways to where we should have been for some time.”
The building was funded through a student referendum in which students voted to pay for the recreation center with a portion of student fees.
In addition to having a workout facility the center hosts core curriculum classes and classes for specific majors, including the fitness and human performance major for undergraduates and the exercise in health science graduate program.
Graduate student John Cruzan agreed with school officials that the recreation and wellness center cultivates a four-year university feel.
“For a campus that [offers]freshman-, sophomore-, junior-, graduate-, senior-level courses [the old facility]was obviously not big enough for what was really needed,” Cruzan said.
Cruzan is also excited for the residence halls to come to fruition even though he will not benefit from them directly.
“I am very positive about these buildings, and I am really excited about the residence hall being built right now. Those buildings and the new ones coming up are really going to go a long way in opening up the profile of the university,” Cruzan said. “Hopefully we stop being this area’s best-kept secret and just be a well-known institution.”
The university has always had student housing on campus in the form of apartments, Berberich said; however, this is the first time that it will have dormitories. The residence halls will hold 300 beds and will be located next door to the recreation and wellness center in the middle of campus. The option to live in the new residence halls will be open to all students but will not be required for any.
“It is not just a place where the students are going to live, but it’s a learning environment as well,” Berberich said.
Berberich said growth consists of more than adding numbers—it also means thinking of innovative ways to help students learn.
In the recreation and wellness center, the innovation is found in the classroom, Short said.
The center has a motor control laboratory, exercise physiology laboratory and a biomechanics laboratory. Students also have technology that helps measure fitness and nutrition levels as well as heart rates, including machinery that measures a person’s body mass index underwater, Short said.
“This provides a golden opportunity for us to generate new knowledge,” Short said.
Ju Kim, dean of the College of Science and Engineering, said the STEM building has state-of-the-art research labs for studying mechanical engineering, a program the university introduced this fall.
“The labs foster a hands-on experience and allow students to develop creative solutions,” Kim said in an email.
The STEM building also has teaching labs, lectures halls, a computer lab and an astronomy deck.
The university expected the newly launched mechanical engineering program to have 50 students. The program exceeded expectations with 107 students registered, Berberich said. This makes the new program one of the larger STEM programs benefiting from the new building.
Due to the popularity of the program the school is planning to add an engineering management program for graduates at the Pearland campus for fall of next year, he said.
“We are always looking at our academic programs to see our faculty expertise, what is their knowledge and what the students need, and so we are constantly evolving that,” Berberich said.
The health sciences and classroom building will have labs and a lecture hall, as well as innovative classroom styles that shift the focus to discussion and collaboration between the students, Berberich said.
It will also house the Registered Nurse-Bachelor of Science program. This program, like the engineering program, was added based on student and community interest, Berberich said.
“At the Pearland campus we have our [Registered Nurse-Bachelor of Science Nursing] program, which we want to continue to grow. In that new building we are going to have [a]simulated hospital room, nurses [and]pharmacy stations so that the learning environment is even enhanced further than the great work that our nurses do now with producing BSN students,” Berberich said.
As UHCL grows, it seeks to add programs that will allow graduates to get jobs in the Houston region, as many students are local, Short said. This includes students graduating with a degree in fitness and human performance, Short said.
“Almost all of our students stay around here once they graduate and fit well into the community,” Short said. “I think we can show that there is a demand for the graduates in this program. They are practice-oriented. Probably the best [fitness and human performance]program in this area is at [University of Houston], but they are more research-oriented. Our program is oriented more towards the community —oriented more toward practicing the community skills and principles that they have learned.”
The fitness and human performance program prepares students for a coaching test. Many fitness centers in Clear Lake and Houston employ UHCL graduates, Short said.
Local businesses look for graduates with different specialties, with mechanical engineering also being a lucrative degree in the area, Mitchell said.
“When a company needs an industry or a field then UHCL develops a curriculum for that field,” Mitchell said.
As the city looks to add innovative businesses, proximity to the university is at least one reason all businesses move to the area, Mitchell said.
“Without the skilled workers companies do not expand here or do not move here,” Mitchell said.