Building Interdisciplinary Opportunities

Last Updated on October 01, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Originally published October 01, 2016

By Danny Perez

UTEP Communications

The University of Texas at El Paso’s planned Interdisciplinary Research Building (IDRB) has the campus buzzing with anticipation.

IDRB Rendering
The University of Texas at El Paso’s planned Interdisciplinary Research Building (IDRB) has the campus buzzing with anticipation.

The goal of the planned $85 million, 158,800-square-foot building is to enhance the ability of faculty members and students from different disciplines to tackle 21st century concerns.

The complex will consist of three wings on the southeast corner of University Avenue and Sun Bowl Drive within sight of Interstate 10. The north wing will be four floors and the middle and south wings will be five stories tall.

The first floor, which will be partially underground, will have core facilities and heavy equipment. The second floor, nicknamed “Main Street,” will handle the heaviest pedestrian traffic with a café, building visitor center, galleries to showcase research, meeting rooms and an 80-seat auditorium. The top three floors will have wet and dry labs and interdisciplinary research suites designed for maximum flexibility in size and use.

“We believe that this building will not only be a beautiful addition to our campus, but will raise our interdisciplinary research enterprise to a whole new level,” said Bill Hargrove, Ph.D., chair of the IDRB campus committee and director of UTEP’s Center for Environmental Research and Management. “This building represents the way of the future.”

The University of Texas System Board of Regents approved the final architectural drawings in November 2016. Construction was planned to begin in spring 2017, and the complex should be fully operational during the spring 2020 semester.

Jason T. Chan, a principal architect with Perkins+Will architectural firm, said he relished the challenge to create a highly flexible research space and was most proud of the versatile research suites.

“Our innovative design of the IDR suite meets the University’s needs of flexible shared space that is usable by anyone and is responsive to current and future needs,” Chan said.

The building’s exterior will follow Bhutanese architecture and be landscaped with native or drought-resistant vegetation. Among the highlights will be a “canyon-like” patio between the IDRB and the Undergraduate Learning Center. A planned bridge will span the canyon, which will have a water feature.

University faculty members have expressed excitement about the building and the greater opportunities it will create for interdisciplinary research, which the University has promoted for the better part of a quarter-century.

“I’m really excited as a science guy,” said Aaron Velasco, Ph.D., professor of geological sciences. “This will give (UTEP) an incredible competitive edge.”

Josefina V. “Josie” Tinajero, Ed.D., professor of bilingual education and special adviser to the vice president of research, called the IDRB one of the most significant steps the University has taken to expand its research agenda since she started working at UTEP in 1981.

Tinajero, who has participated in interdisciplinary research through the years, said she reviews research proposals and sees examples where faculty members from diverse disciplines want to work together.

“I don’t just want to support others,” Tinajero said. “I want to be part of it. I believe in bringing together diverse expertise to address challenges. It enriches our work.”

Peter Golding, Ph.D., professor of engineering education and leadership, said the new building speaks directly to the relevancy of interdisciplinary research, a concept that has been championed by President Diana Natalicio and Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D., vice president for research, for many years.

“To me, this investment will put our money where our mouth is,” said Golding, who added that today’s research in materials science cannot be done without an understanding of chemistry, biology, mathematics and nanotechnology. “They are all interconnected in a way that they weren’t once upon a time.”

Celia Pechak, Ph.D., associate professor of physical therapy, participates in interdisciplinary research, and considers the new building valuable to the University.

“I think anything that benefits UTEP will benefit my program,” said Pechak, interim associate director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. “The more we do interdisciplinary research on our campus, the more it will draw outstanding researchers and students, which will build our University.”

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