Expanded labs, updated tech greet students at Pitt-Greensburg’s new Life Sciences Building

Natural lighting and artificial patients are among the features that have students and faculty excited about the new Life Sciences Building at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.

Members of the Pitt-Greensburg community got their first glimpse inside the latest addition to the Hempfield campus during an open house Monday that coincided with the first day of spring semester classes.

The two-story, 32,000-square-foot building is designed for energy efficiency, with large windows throughout, campus President Robert Gregerson said.

“We’ve got huge windows that allow either direct natural light or borrowed light to come in,” he said.

“I love it,” said Lydia Alexandroff, a sophomore nursing major from Munhall who was preparing to take her first class in the new building Tuesday. “The natural light creates a really good vibe. I think it creates a warm study environment and a good place to learn.”

Study areas with casual seating are spaced along the main corridor of the $19.5 million building. An enclosed walkway links it with the building it is augmenting — Smith Hall, which has housed science courses since the 1970s.

“All the seating areas are really cool,” said Sarah Palonder, a freshman biology major from Perryopolis. “I definitely think I’ll use those.”

Palonder also liked the expansive, open layout of science labs on the new building’s second floor, with tables that allow students to sit in groups of four as they listen to an instructor’s lecture or work on experiments.

“It’s nicer to be able to see the whole room instead of just being at your one lab desk,” she said.

Gregerson noted the first floor provides more than double the space for the nursing program compared with the area it previously occupied in McKenna Hall.

“The technology is much better here,” he said.

After ordered equipment arrives, students will have a larger number of manikins on which to practice their nursing skills.

The most sophisticated manikin models are slated to occupy two hospital beds in a new simulation suite. There, instructors in a control room will observe through two-way mirrors as students are challenged to assess and provide care for these “patients” that can be programmed to mimic various ailments.

“We can change the vital signs of the patient, and we can change the distress the patient might be in,” said Amber Bugajski, nursing skills lab director and instructor. “The student can take the blood pressure, feel pulses and establish if there is any intervention the student would need to do to help the patient.

“They can do CPR chest compressions and inject medications. We can interchange body parts to simulate wounds.”

Cameras allow fellow students in another classroom to watch the sessions with the manikins.

“The students will be able to watch and critique their colleagues,” said Marie Fioravanti, director of Pitt-Greensburg’s nursing program. “When your turn is done, you switch out.”

The maikins allow the nursing students to safely make mistakes.

Said Bugajski: “We can correct those mistakes here before we go to our true patient population” — during instructor-supervised clinical hospital visits.

University officials have yet to decide how best to use the space at McKenna that had been occupied by the nursing program.

Olivia Long, associate professor of biology and biochemistry, said opening of the new labs in the Life Sciences Building has freed up space to expand Pitt-Greensburg’s digital imaging lab, which opened in 2017.

Work is underway to increase its capacity from 12 to 24 students, she said. The imaging lab’s microscopes are equipped with cameras and linked to computers, making them ideal for conducting research in biology-related fields.

Some of Long’s research students have tested homeopathic treatments for muscular dystrophy on microscopic worms that display symptoms similar to human diseases. In another research effort, the worms are being fed a Greek tea with antioxidants that are said to counteract the protein accumulation linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

“It seems to really help the worms,” Long said.

Long noted the university has obtained a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant to provide scholarships over six years to 48 low-income, academically gifted students majoring in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

She said the interdisciplinary grant program is a perfect fit for the variety of lab spaces gathered in the new Life Sciences Building.

“A space like this is really important,” she said. “These students will spend a lot of their time in this building.”

Space on the second floor of the linking walkway has been reserved for two new chemistry labs, after funding is available.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email at [email protected] or via Twitter. .

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