RHS Makes Upgrades Over Summer

This piece was published in the September 2015 issue of the Prep News


Over the summer, Rockhurst spent roughly $2.2 million improving different areas around the school. Included in these additions were the robotics program, active learning classrooms, updated science offices, turf field and stadium upgrades.

These programs, instituted over the summer, were funded by Rockhurst’s Plant Fund. The Plant Fund consists of a $875,000 annual contribution from the school’s operations. The money in the Plant Fund comes directly from students’ tuitions.

In addition, the money in the Plant Fund is invested, and this money gained from investments helped to fund the projects completed over the summer. The Plant Fund was put in place for the upkeep of the building, repairs, and enhancements.

The robotics program offers students the opportunity to experience applied physics and engineering firsthand. “There’s a big push to have more and more science and technology-related fields because that is where the jobs are,” Fr. Terrence Baum, SJ, president, said. “We feel that there is an interest on the part of our students to get a leg up on all of that, so they can get a taste of these science-related things before they go to college.”

With the course implementation costs, club implementation costs, and other adjustments, the budget approved for the robotics program is nearly $200,000. The 65 robotics kits needed for both the class and the club are about $65,000.

Although just in its first year, the robotics program already has a large amount of interest. There are 94 juniors and seniors enrolled in the year-long robotic engineering course and 27 freshmen enrolled in the semester-long introductory course.

In addition to the robotics program, the three new active learning classrooms coincide with the STEAM initiative at Rockhurst. The three active learning classrooms are located in rooms 312, 219 and 107. Each room is designed differently in order to test out which elements work most effectively. The cost of each classroom was $40,000, totaling $120,000.

Mr. Greg Owsley, former math department chair, is leading the STEAM initiative this year as the STEAM director. “My vision for the active learning classrooms is to have a student-centered learning environment,” Mr. Owsley said.

Since a part of Rockhurst’s mission is about fostering life-long friendships, Mr. Owsley wants to make sure that these friendships are being formed in the classroom.

“The Rockhurst community should not just be outside the walls of the classroom; it should be within the classroom,” Mr. Owsley said. “We do a great job of teachers and students building relationships with each other, but what we are trying to do with the active learning classrooms is inject more student-to-student relationships.”

Furthermore, having three screens available in the active learning classrooms makes possible the concept of triangulation, meaning that there is always a screen in a student’s line of sight.

“Education theory says that triangulation allows a more engaging learning environment,” Mr. Owsley said. “Triangulation creates that engagement for everyone, no matter where they are sitting in the classroom.”

Even though these classrooms were put in place over the summer, they are by no means set in stone.

“This might not work. This decision has not been made,” Mr. Owsley said.

To gage the effectiveness of the active learning classrooms, Mr. Owsley will send out surveys periodically that compares and contrasts a student’s learning experience in the active learning classrooms vs. the normal classrooms to see if Rockhurst will move forward with these active learning classrooms in the future.

In addition, the Plant Fund provided the resources for upgrading the science offices, field next to the Loyola Center, visiting bleachers at the stadium and the home press box. The cost of upgrading the science offices was $27,000.

“We wanted to give the science department the same kind of storage and work stations that the rest of the faculty have in the faculty studio,” Fr. Baum said.

Upgrades to the press box and visiting bleachers totalled $1.3 million, while the installation of the turf field cost $560,000. The turf was supposed to be installed somewhere else, but there was a storm that damaged one of the rolls of turf.

“I knew that I wasn’t going to take the same size of field because of homes and the parking lot, so, for us, it wasn’t a big deal that one of the rolls wasn’t available,” Mr. Michael Dierks, athletic director, said. Therefore, installation was the only cost of the field.

Although Rockhurst had already planned to institute the robotics program at the beginning of this year, Rockhurst was able to expand the robotics program and other STEAM-based initiatives through the generosity of Mr. Mike (Class of 1975) and Mrs. Millie Brown.

“Mr. and Mrs. Brown said that they would provide a little over $2 million over the next five years,” Fr. Baum said.

Because of this commitment, Rockhurst was able to put Mr. Andrew Wilcox into a full-time role as a robotics teacher and hire another science teacher. In the future, this donation will go towards teacher training, STEAM curriculum development, and STEAM curriculum implementation. This commitment over the next five years will lead to more STEAM-related changes and improvements at Rockhurst in the near future.

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