InspirED

Imagining a new home for the next generation of scientists and engineers.


BY GWYNETH CONNELL, DIRECTOR OF THE GRAUER FAMILY INSTITUTE

Last spring, when Head of School Tim Richards asked me to chair a committee that would explore the possibility of a new science, technology, and engineering building at Pomfret, I did not anticipate how quickly and clearly this planned new facility would emerge as a top priority for the school.

Even as our current students continue to have incredible learning experiences in Monell Science Center — and many of our alumni have fond memories of the time they spent there — our science program has simply outgrown its home. Monell was built during the Eisenhower administration when Pomfret’s total enrollment was just shy of 200 students, who were taught science by a team of just three science instructors. Today, our school has grown to 365 students, and our science courses boast an enrollment that exceeds even that number. Our upperclassmen utilize the space frequently to take advantage of the opportunity to “double-up” in science courses to prepare themselves for continued exploration at the college level and beyond.

One of the greatest joys of the committee’s work was the opportunity to visit other schools’ more modern science facilities. In the midst of a global pandemic, it was a particular treat to venture beyond Pomfret’s campus and learn from the experiences of colleagues at Tabor, Holderness, Blair, Morristown-Beard, and Marlboro High School.

The committee, which included Assistant Head of School Don Gibbs, Science Department Chair Josh Lake, Director of Facilities Brenda Bullied, Chemistry Teacher Chris Chuckran, and Registrar Ellen McGloine, heard cautionary tales about which corners not to cut (ventilation!), which sustainability measures have a meaningful impact (and which don’t!), and being inflexible in design (spaces are not always used for their intended purpose). We also saw elements that truly inspired us, such as specialized research labs, warm and welcoming presentation spaces, and even a planetarium. 

Meanwhile, back on the Hilltop, we held a number of focus groups with faculty, staff, and students to get a sense of their hopes and vision for the future of science, technology, and engineering at Pomfret. From them, we learned that our students are excited about the idea of being directly involved with the design process of a new building. We also learned that they long for the kind of landing spots where academic and social worlds can collide — small-group study nooks with white boards nearby, or comfortable places to sit and chat while waiting for a class to begin. These focus groups offered ideas for how science and art could intersect through the curated selection of display pieces, and how the science curriculum could benefit from more direct access to Pomfret’s magnificent natural resources.

Now that the committee has submitted its findings, it has been incredible to see the enthusiasm of our board members, alumni, and parents as we make further plans to hire an architect to bring this vision to life as part of Pomfret’s public campaign launch in the fall of 2022. Pomfret’s science program and faculty have always been a major point of pride for the School; this is an opportunity to build them a home that inspires a similar sense of pride, and that can serve to attract the next generation of Pomfret scientists and engineers.

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