Science Center debuts with a bang

Monday, September 20, 2004

'Makes you want to go to class'

A cannon blast at the climax of the ceremony surprised the crowd of hundreds Friday, spewing a blizzard of confetti and streamers of blue and gold all over the freshly-completed Estelle Siebens Science Center.

It was a splashy public debut for the $26 million educational showplace, full of speakers, banners, tours and scientific demonstrations.

The building's namesake, Estelle Siebens, was unable to attend the ceremony, but many of her grandchildren were on hand to help dedicate the structure, which was made possible through a $13 million "all or nothing" challenge grant in 2001 from the foundation established by Estelle Siebens' late husband, Harold, who spent his early years in Storm Lake before becoming an oilfield speculation tycoon.

"This is a historic day for all of us on this campus," reflected James Haahr, Storm Lake, the head of the BVU trustees. He noted how deeply the campus has evolved since he graduated there in 1962, progressively emerging as a widely-recognized center for excellence in learning.

BVU President Fred Moore followed, inviting the large crowd to join in "a momentous day" and the dedication of the building, which he called "breathtaking."

"There is a single light of science," Moore quoted author Isaac Asimov, "and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere."

Moore recalled how BVU had to double its usual fundraising goals to meet the "astounding" Siebens challenge, raising $13 million in 13 months, or facing the loss of the entire $13 million from the Siebens Foundation. The challenge was accepted just a few days before the terrorist strikes, but the university pressed ahead, Moore said, and hundreds of alumni and friends joined the campaign.

"This is a day I and my science colleagues have long awaited," said Dean of Science Ken Schweller, suggesting that the building will bring out the best in the teaching of science. "It will energize our teaching and our research endeavors for decades to come."

The BVU relationship with the Siebens family stretches over three decades. The late Harold Walter Seibens had remarked that there is no reason that great men and women, and great advancements, could not emerge from a small college, Moore recalled.

Family advisor Clifford Rae added that Seibens first spoke of the eventual need to replace the old Science Center bearing his wife's name almost 20 years ago. He remarked at that time that he hoped that Estelle would live to see the day.

The Seibens have always had faith in the youth of Iowa, he said, and Harold often said that "There is no one in the world that could over-achieve what the Iowa student can do, if they are given the opportunity."

Moore also spoke of the "disturbing loss of America's world dominance in science," and said that the new structure will position BVU well to do its part in helping the country to reclaim its leadership in the future. He cited quotations noting that a school's job is to prepare for knowledge that no one has yet imagined.

Dean of Faculty Dr. Jacqueline Johnson said that science and mathematics should be seen as "poetry in motion," and said that she hopes the new resources bring out what has been termed "the ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence" in each of BVU's students.

Student Tom Weeks, president of the student senate, said that the learning environment has a lot to do with how students feel about their studies. "This building makes you want to go to class," he said.

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