Arts and Sciences Brings Rutgers Innovation and Intellectual Capital to Downtown New Brunswick
- Written by John Chadwick | SAS Senior Writer
1 Spring Street grand opening draws New Brunswick and Rutgers leaders
The Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences now has a powerful presence in downtown New Brunswick.
The school, the largest academic unit at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, has moved some of its most innovative projects and operations to a building at 1 Spring Street.
City and university leaders said the recent move is the start of an exciting new chapter in the life of New Brunswick and Rutgers.
“We are going to be able to solve a lot of problems and create a lot of opportunity here,” School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) Executive Dean Peter March said, noting the wide range of research, teaching, and service projects that are located in the building.
Indeed, the move brings an influx of university employees, both faculty and professional staff, to the downtown area, along with a myriad of initiatives—including some with a strong public health focus—from a psychology lab that examines underlying factors for nicotine addiction, to language processing studies involving autism, to research on the genetic disorder Tourette’s Syndrome. Also moving into the building are a robotics lab, the Rutgers Oral History Archives, and The Language Center.
New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill said the move by Arts and Sciences to Spring Street reflects a rich tradition of cooperation and partnership between the city and the university that benefits citizens and students alike.
“We are pleased to see Rutgers grow into new spaces because with new growth comes continued commitment for shared community,” Cahill said. “This new home will allow the School of Arts and Sciences to grow and thrive, further integrating the Rutgers mission into the heart of our community.”
Rutgers University–New Brunswick Interim Chancellor Chris Molloy said the move creates tremendous potential for Rutgers as a major research university.
“Bringing together all these disparate activities from the School of Arts and Sciences—one of the strongest units at Rutgers, one of strongest units in all of the Big Ten—really is a game changer for us,” Molloy said. “And the fact that it’s in New Brunswick with our partners is very exciting to me.”
During a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house, attendees made their way through the building to see demonstrations that highlighted the university’s research in robotics, psychology, and language and distance learning.
A robotics lab located in a 1,300-square-foot space on the third floor dazzled audiences as Professor Kostas Bekris of the Department of Computer Science demonstrated the ways in which his research team is developing more advanced robots.
In one eye-catching example, a robot held a paint roller and accurately maneuvered it within a large Rutgers “R” as if it was actually painting. Bekris said that robot was developed for the paint industry. The robot performs painting tasks in a sealed room so that the manufacturers can measure the toxicity of the paint.
“We provide the robot and programming so that the robot can do the operation as close as possible to how a human does it,” Bekris says. “Part of the requirement is that you apply the same amount of paint that a human would be doing at the same time.”
The robotics lab provides a rich learning environment for students ranging from post-docs to Ph.D. candidates to undergraduates.
“I have always been fascinated with robotics and the potential of the field,” says Zetao Yu, an SAS senior. “I just had to be a part of this lab.”
Patrick Yang, a sophomore, agreed.
“I liked science fiction and I thought robots would be really fun to work on,” he said. “As I am getting experience in research I am also learning different programming languages.”
Audience members also marveled at The Language Center’s sophisticated videoconferencing systems that allow Rutgers students to take courses at other Big Ten schools without ever leaving campus. On the fourth floor, the center’s staff communicated face-to-face with their counterparts at the University of Minnesota, which will be offering courses in Korean, and Akkadian to Rutgers students this fall. Rutgers, meanwhile, will use the system to offer a Greek prose class to the University of Illinois.
And on the third floor, the VideoWall system allowed audience members to communicate directly with a class at Rutgers University-Newark as if they were in the same room.
“These facilities show that languages and language learning are fully part of the 21st century,” says Tom Stephens, faculty director of the center, and a professor of Spanish. “In these rooms, language is in fact pushing the technology.”
Elsewhere, faculty and staff from the Department of Psychology showed audiences their offices and labs on the second floor in which they will study the underlying triggers that cause such issues as anxiety and cigarette smoking. One of their tasks will be to interview and study long-term smokers to better understand what causes people to start the habit and what makes it so hard to quit.
“This gives us a foot in the community, and access to a larger subject population and, potentially, a patient population,” said David Vicario, former longtime chair of the psychology department and now area dean for social and behavioral sciences in Arts and Sciences. “A lot of this work involves trying to develop new interventions for various kinds of problems, be they smoking or anxiety.”
The School of Arts and Sciences offers majors and minors across the academic spectrum and has roots that go back to Rutgers’ colonial beginnings. The vast majority of the school’s day-to-day teaching, research, and service will continue to take place on the Rutgers campuses in New Brunswick and Piscataway.
“We are bringing a microcosm of arts and sciences to downtown New Brunswick,” March says. “Many of the units coming into the Spring Street location work directly with the public, so rather than bringing folks out to some far corner of campus, we now have a centralized location.”
This is a particularly beneficial change for the Rutgers Oral History Archives, which records the stories of New Jersey citizens, including many elderly veterans. Shaun Illingworth, the director of the archives, says the new location has parking for his interviewees, better acoustics, and more room for students working with him.
“This is going to make us a better resource for the people of New Jersey and the university community as we broaden the scope of our program to include more people around the state,” Illingworth said.
That point was brought home by Barton Klion RC’48 and president of the Class of 1948. Klion was one of the keynote speakers at the event, and is a longtime member of the alumni group that supports the work of the archive.
“Rutgers has changed over the years,” Klion told the audience. “And today is a special day.”
Taken as a whole, March added during an interview, the Spring Street site brings intellectual capital and capabilities that complement the plan by city and state officials to build an “innovation hub” in New Brunswick.
The Spring Street location is adjacent to the construction site for a proposed science and technology research center. Eventually, March says, he wants the Spring Street building to function as an incubator for students developing their own innovations.
“As Rutgers’ largest school, we welcome the vision for an innovation hub in New Brunswick,” March said. “We come as like-minded and supportive neighbors bringing our own hub.”