By Harry Minium

Long before Amazon announced it would locate its second headquarters in Northern Virginia, creating an urgent need to fill 25,000 new high-tech jobs, President John R. Broderick was working to transform Old Dominion University into a leader in STEM-H education.

He brought state senators, delegates and governors to campus, where he impressed upon them the need to invest in the University. State leaders in both parties agreed, and ODU has increasingly become a magnet for those majoring in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health sciences.

More than 40% of ODU graduates receive a STEM-H degree, the second-highest percentage among doctoral institutions in the state.

The University will herald its latest, and perhaps most important, milestone in STEM-H education next week when it officially unveils three buildings - two completed and one about to begin construction - with a celebration called "Building Our Dominion."

The new facilities involve a collective $213 million investment.

On Tuesday at 11 a.m., the University will dedicate the $75.6 million, 110,000-square foot Chemistry Building. It will allow ODU to expand its chemistry and biochemistry programs and conduct more advanced research. The building will replace the Alfriend Chemistry Building, which opened in 1966.

The new four-story facility has a striking 100-by-40-foot pane of glass on the front, allowing pedestrians to watch chemistry students and faculty in class and in labs.

The building also features the Michael and Kimthanh Lê Digital Theater & Planetarium, a 122-seat facility that will double as an advanced chemistry and biochemistry classroom.

The planetarium, one of the finest in Virginia, is far more technically advanced than the existing Pretlow Auditorium. It has a $900,000 high-resolution, dual-laser projection system that will cast images on a 49-foot dome in 4-K. That will allow professors to project three-dimensional proteins and molecules on the dome, as well as notes and videos, all at the same time.

John Cooper, who heads ODU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said the Chemistry Building will allow his department to conduct all chemistry classes in one building. Previously, more than 5,000 students took classes in various locations.

Most science majors take at least one year of chemistry. The new building will also allow freshman organic chemistry majors to do research, something most other universities do not offer.

The first floor is designed to house classes, a student success center and labs for freshmen, as well as a large common area visible through the front picture window. It is intended to have the look and feel of a coffee shop.

"We will soon have a STEM hangout," Cooper said.

Cooper said having everything under one roof will not only help ODU recruit better students but will also help students perform better. Keeping the freshman student success center, labs and classrooms together, he said, will encourage students to seek tutoring when they need it. It will also encourage collaboration.

Labs on the top three floors are visible from hallways and from other labs through large planes of glass, part of a "STEM on Display" philosophy. Like the other buildings, it is designed to allow natural light to bathe the interior. The Chemistry Building has 174 windows, not including planes of glass in common areas or between labs.

Gail Dodge, dean of the School of Sciences, said the new building "is an amazing facility that will greatly improve the learning experience and ability to do research for both students and faculty."

"Every detail has been thought through to support student success and opportunity," she added. "Undergraduates will have access to state-of-the-art equipment as part of their classes and research.

"The faculty will be thrilled with the quality and size of their laboratory spaces. Our faculty and graduate students will have the facilities to take their research to the next level.

The building is already paying dividends.

"Our new Chemistry Building has already allowed us to recruit faculty members we would not have been able to recruit without it," President Broderick said. "It will also allow us to do advanced research of national significance."

On Wednesday, ODU celebrates its future $74.9 million Health Sciences Building, which is scheduled to open in the summer of 2023 and will become a focal point of health care for thousands of local residents. The event will start at noon and will be virtual.

The facility will house four programs now scattered across campus, including ODU's physical therapy and dental hygiene clinics, which provide low-cost care to thousands in Hampton Roads.

The new building will allow both clinics to increase their offerings and will enable ODU to expand facilities to teach dental hygiene, athletic training, occupational therapy and physical therapy.

The building will also serve as the home for lab facilities for the School of Medical Diagnostic and Translational Services.

The new Health Sciences Building will allow ODU enough classroom and faculty space to begin a doctoral program in occupational therapy, which will enroll about 120 students. President Broderick said it will also help the University establish a joint School of Public Health with Norfolk State University and Eastern Virginia Medical School. Sentara Healthcare is also supporting the venture.

The new School of Public Health will be located in the existing Health Sciences Building in space vacated by departments moving into the new building. The new school will take advantage of the new Health Sciences Building's research facilities and will focus on addressing health-care disparities in Hampton Roads.

Health Sciences Dean Bonnie Van Lunen said the new Health Sciences Building will allow Monarch Physical Therapy to expand from 6,000 square feet in a converted warehouse to 11,000 square feet in a modern building with adjacent surface and garage parking.

The new building, located at 41st Street between Killam Avenue and Monarch Way, will expand ODU's campus further south, near the Chartway Arena south parking garage. A space in front of the Health Sciences Building fronting Hampton Boulevard is being saved for potential private development.

"The Health Sciences Building significantly expands our emerging partnership with Norfolk State, Eastern Virginia Medical School and Sentara Healthcare to address health inequities in our undeserved communities," President Broderick said. "It will also have a cadaver lab, which will modernize anatomical training for our students."

Although the building will have traditional ODU orange brick walls, it also will have glass atriums on the front three stories as well as an open concept inside, which will allow visitors on the first floor to see activity on the third floor. There will also be an outdoor walking garden with different surfaces for patients to use during therapy.

"Our physical therapy and dental hygiene clinics are in spaces now that are not clearly marked on our campus," Van Lunen said. "This new building will provide much greater public access to the services they offer.

"Imagine going from 6,000 square feet to 11,000 square feet. We're going to be able to do so much more to serve the public and help prepare our students."

On Thursday at 2:30, ODU will open the Hugo A. Owens House, a $62.5 million residential facility that will house 470 students, including many majoring in STEM-H disciplines.

The facility is among the most advanced of its kind in the nation, with a living-learning community for cybersecurity, gaming, health professions and engineering students. They will not only live in the five-story building, but also be able to take classes, do research, meet with faculty and collaborate on creating products there.

Owens House is named for Dr. Hugo A. Owens, a civil rights pioneer who was ODU's first African American rector and fought for equal rights, as well as equal access to health care and educational opportunities.

ODU considered the need to grow its STEM-H programs as it planned for Owens House, which will house a cybersecurity lab.

Don Stansberry, vice president of student engagement and enrollment services, said Owens House was designed with input not only from departments whose students will live there, but also from students, who helped select the furniture and amenities such as indoor and outdoor community areas.

The building is completely wireless, has package concierge services and is steps from the Student Recreation Center and Broderick Dining Commons.

"It may seem like a minor thing, but if students print something from their room, it's not printed until they come downstairs and scan their student ID," Stansberry said. "Even the door access to rooms is wireless.

"We designed everything, from the flow of the building to the common areas, with students in mind, not only for their convenience, but to enhance their learning experience."

President Broderick feels Owens House will serve as more than a residential and education facility - it will also inspire students.

"Former President Jim Koch described Dr. Owens as 'the Nelson Mandela of Hampton Roads,' " he said. "The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked him to move to Atlanta, but Dr. Owens said his work was here. This building features panels highlighting Dr. Owens' contributions, and I hope it motivates future generations to follow his path."

"When you look at the investments we are making on campus, the opening of the Chemistry Building, Owens House and the new Health Sciences Building, it punctuates where we are trying to go in creating an educated workforce not only for Hampton Roads, but also for the commonwealth," added President Broderick, who is retiring this summer after 13 years leading the University.

Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., will succeed him.

On Friday, from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., the University will host a Student Day featuring a Monarch Court dedication and Monarch Esports Arena grand opening in Webb Center. The Monarch Esports Arena grand opening is the only event of the week open to the general public, but registration is required to attend.

Because of COVID-19 limits, the other events will be invitation only for in-person attendance but will be available virtually.

In addition, the General Assembly recently approved planning money for a new $126 million biology building that will allow ODU to expand its offerings to STEM-H students even farther. That facility, which will be within steps of ODU's other science buildings, is projected to open in 2025.

That would be the sixth major STEM-H project either begun or opened under President Broderick's watch. The Engineering Systems Building, a 51,000-square-foot, two-story building, opened in 2014 and serves as the research center for the Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

ODU also renovated space at its Virginia Beach campus in 2018 to house the University's College of Health Sciences School of Nursing and telehealth program.

The University's STEM-H programs are growing partly in response to changing workplace demands. For instance, ODU's cybersecurity program, which began in 2015, grew to 864 students last fall, said Hongyi "Michael" Wu, director of the School of Cybersecurity.

Austin Agho, ODU's provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the new facilities reflect the state's commitment to increasing the University's role as a leader in STEM-H education and research.

"Old Dominion University is adapting as the economy changes to produce the graduates needed not only for these jobs critical to our economy, but also for those jobs critical to the well-being of our citizens in the state and region," Agho said.

"We recognized that cybersecurity was an area in which companies were rapidly expanding, and we moved quickly to fill that need."


Monday, April 19 - Building Our Dominion, noon.

Tuesday, April 20 - Chemistry Building, 11 a.m.

Wednesday, April 21 - Health Science Building, noon.

Thursday, April 22 - Hugo Owens House, 2:30 pm.

Friday, April 23 - Student Day, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Related News Stories

Dean of College of Sciences Appointed Chair of the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee

Gail Dodge will lead the committee that advises the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation on issues related to fundamental nuclear science research. (More)

22 Old Dominion University Programs Ranked in U.S. News & World Report's Assessment of Best Graduate Schools for 2022

The publication recognized 20 of the University’s graduate programs or specialties and two of its colleges. (More)

Coastal Flooding Experts from Across North America to Converge for Virtual Workshop Led by ODU

The goal is to identify gaps in knowledge that are essential in responding to current and future flooding. (More)