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February 20, 2008 > The 'green' jewel of Newark

The 'green' jewel of Newark

By Vidya Pradhan
Photos By Vidya Pradhan

Community colleges have traditionally been the Cinderellas of higher education. Compared to the glittering fame of Berkeley and Stanford, institutions like Ohlone College have quietly and unassumingly carried out their mandate - providing a strong education to the members of the community. These schools support a variety of goals for students of all ages; to pursue jobs in fields like bio-engineering, geology, television and film, among others, and making it financially easy for students pursuing a degree to rack up credits before they transfer to a four year college or university.

Now a community college in our own neighborhood is showing the way to the future of education in this new century. The Newark campus of Ohlone College, touted as a 'green' campus, is a shining example of the innovative thinking of Silicon Valley and an inspiration to students who choose to study there.

From solar panels to geo-thermal heating and cooling coils buried under the sod around the campus, every inch is a testament to alternative energy and sustainability. Even the insulation is made of recycled jeans and cotton; large enthalpy wheels arrange for air transfer to condition the air in the premises to remain crisp and clean. The use of natural light wherever possible brings down energy costs while giving the building an open, inviting look.

"The first question visitors have is about the cost of such innovation," said Leta Stagnaro, Associate Vice president of the Newark Center for Health Sciences Technology, "but while it is a little more expensive up front, the costs are easily recovered in energy savings over the years." The green initiative is also sending a positive message to approximately 3,000 students registered in the new school. They have embraced the idea and are constantly reminded by their environment of the mantra 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.' One student said, "I know this is probably a taboo subject, but could we please have a copier?" When Stagnaro assured her there was one available, she joked, "With paper, right?"

Until a few years ago, the Newark campus of Ohlone College rented space nearby, from Newark Memorial High School and the University of Phoenix. Passage of a bond measure made it possible for the campus to have its own building. President/Superintendent Dr. Douglas Treadway suggested that the entire plan be reassessed with a focus on green technology. Under his leadership, the Ohlone College Newark Campus was developed as a cutting edge teaching and learning environment serving as a model for other schools who want to incorporate sustainable energy techniques..

Today, the Newark campus hosts the entire Health Sciences department and shares general education classes with the Fremont campus. Health Science is one of the showpieces of the new facility.

Nursing labs use 'intermediate fidelity' mannequins which replicate many human processes like a heartbeat and blood pressure. The lab is set up like a ward with mannequins in hospital beds simulating various conditions. Manufactured by Laerdal(r), these mannequins feature interactive software that provides realistic patient simulations for nursing students.

A human simulator lab is also in the works, made possible with a grant from the chancellor's office. The lab will have two stations and be set up exactly like an operating room with a gallery. Cameras above the stations will provide a close-up look at the "patient" and students are expected to respond to various emergencies in real time with a debriefing later. The lab was originally scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2008, but intense lobbying from staff and students has moved the launch date to a month from now.

Environmental studies, with an emphasis on service-based learning, are also in the cards. The campus is situated adjacent to the bay and a bioswail (a man-made drainage system) has already been put in place to capture and clean runoff water from the campus. Students will restore the wetlands around the campus and while gaining valuable field experience.

Another innovation in the campus is the bio-tech department, under the leadership of Dr. Ron Quinta. The Learning Alliance for Bioscience (LAB) project, developed by Ohlone College with its partners from schools and industry aims to increase student interest in biosciences by offering programs for kids in high schools and middle schools in the area. The lab also offers courses to retrain workers laid off from other sectors in the economy, helping them to qualify for jobs with partner companies such as Genentech and Bayer.

"The one-room school house has for long time been the blueprint for how schools have been designed," said Stagnaro. "Essentially, schools are just many one-room school houses put together. With this campus, we had the opportunity to start from scratch and figure out what we needed to do to bring the concept of a learning environment in line with the advances in technology and expectations of students."

By choosing to adopt a system of shared governance, involving both students and faculty in the design for the new campus, and by being environmentally conscious, Ohlone College Newark has become a shining example of the future.

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