The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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ChE Student Space Goes from Cave to CRIB

In face of unprecedented growth in its student body, the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department is building a new home base for ChE students to meet, socialize, study, use sophisticated computers, hear lectures, and collaborate on projects. The department plans to move its undergraduate hub from the small room in the basement of Goessmann Hall, known affectionately as “the Cave,” to a renovated area on the first floor of Goessmann Hall. The new student facility is being called the ChE Research and Innovation Base, or CRIB, and will be developed in two phases, with the first phase of renovations already underway this summer. The CRIB is designed to become the birthplace of many creative projects and an incubator for student innovation. It will also have quiet study areas.

“The old student space, a small subterranean room called the Cave, was not adequate for the needs of a quickly growing student body in the Chemical Engineering Department,” says ChE Department Head Professor T.J. Lakis Mountziaris. “It was not sufficient to serve the needs of our undergraduate community and enable collaborative student projects. That’s the problem we’re trying to solve.”

Professor Mountziaris compares the CRIB to similar interactive student centers in other departments in the College of Engineering, namely the M5 area in the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department and the Class E Exploratorium in the Mechanical & Industrial Engineering Department, that are very popular with the students.

When completed, the CRIB will give ChE students a comfortable lounge, an upgraded computer facility with 25 new machines, sophisticated wireless communications technology, about 20 large cubicles where small groups of students can meet to study and collaborate, and a meeting area where visitors and guest speakers can interact with the students. The CRIB will be a unique and functional space for all the ChE students to call home.

“We’re celebrating 60 years of Chemical Engineering at UMass Amherst in 2013,” says Mountziaris. “We’re the top public Chemical Engineering Department in New England. To maintain our regional leadership and improve our national standing, we need to be constantly innovating and improving our facilities.”

The first phase of renovations of the CRIB space is made possible through lead gifts from two retired undergraduate alumni: Michael Sarli (B.S. ’75), a former technology program leader at ExxonMobil who currently serves as a lecturer in the ChE department and an advisor to the Career Planning and Student Development Office of the College; and Ronald LaBarre (B.S. ’73), the chairman of the ChE Advisory Board and a former executive at Air Liquide. Sarli and LaBarre established a $25,000 challenge grant, and a campaign is being launched to meet the match from alumni gifts by the end of the year. Alumni who contribute to the completion of the CRIB will be recognized on a plaque that will be on display in the room.

“The ChE department has grown and strongly improved over its 60 years,” says LaBarre. “It is a pleasure and an honor to contribute to another step forward in supporting the CRIB project. I hope that other alumni will join Mike and me to fund this project.”

“Like many department alumni that have had, or are in the midst of, successful careers, I owe a lot to the fundamental training I received here,” says Sarli. “Also, in my new role on campus I see the long hours that students spend in the Cave. I am pleased to help develop a state of the art collaboration space for future successful alumni and encourage others to join Ron and me in supporting this effort.”

The plan is to make the CRIB available to the students by the start of the Fall 2012 semester. The department plans to engage the students in the development of the second phase of the CRIB, which will be completed by the Fall of 2013. The CRIB will be accessible 24 hours a day to all ChE undergraduate students.

“Student spaces like the CRIB provide students with opportunities to collaborate on projects,” explains Paula Sakey, the director of development for the College of Engineering. “They build a sense of community and are great places for students just to meet and socialize. The CRIB will allow the department to invite alumni to present talks and interact with the students. The Career Planning and Student Development Office can arrange for companies to visit and do info sessions there. So there will be lots of opportunities for ChE undergraduate students to utilize and enjoy this space.”

For more information on how to contribute to the project, please call or email Paula Sakey, Director of Development, at 413.545.6396 or (July 2012)

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