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UND med school settles into new facility

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Thomas Mohr, UND SMHS associate dean for health sciences and a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor, stands before physical therapy students moving through a practical exam Tuesday. Mohr said the new space for PT students in the recently constructed SMHS building is far nicer than in its previous home. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 5
Randy Eken, UND SMHS associate dean of administration and finance, examines an advanced medical manikin in the recently constructed SMHS building's simulation room. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald3 / 5
The main entryway of the new UND medical school building is walled by massive floor-to-ceiling windows. Jessica Sobolik, the school’s director of alumni and community relations, said the school's cafe is a popular spot among students. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald4 / 5
The glass walls of one of eight learning communities in the new UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences building have been decorated to look like sylilzed cardiac muscle. The community learning center model is meant to encourage an inter-disciplinary approach to medical and health instruction, said Jessica Sobolik, the school’s director of alumni and community relations. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald5 / 5

A semester into its first year of use, the recently finished UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences has been fully occupied and put to work by students, staff and faculty.

Graduate students Brooke Freeberg and Danyelle Osowski were studying Tuesday in an upper-level common area of the 325,000-square foot building, which is now occupied by about 800 students at any given time. As undergraduates Freeberg and Osowski worked in the old SMHS and helped move laboratory equipment the few blocks over into the freshly built $124 million facility in time for the fall semester.  

Beyond the higher-quality amenities to be found in a new facility, both students commented on the collaborative opportunities brought on by a center built with wide-open spaces in mind.

“Before we came over here, we were in small little labs, each of our own,” said Osowski. “But now we have huge labs. In our lab we have like six or seven collaborators and can easily mingle with other students and see what everyone’s doing in the building.”

The ability to watch the inner workings of the school isn’t just confined to lab space -- a visitor to the SMHS might note the prevalence of glass walls and expansive windows that provide both long sightlines and plenty of natural light.

The openness of the building is by design, said Jessica Sobolik, the school’s director of alumni and community relations. She points to one of the school’s eight learning communities, open areas where students of all SMHS tracks and disciplines can study together, as proof of the effort to instruct through a “team-based” approach to medical treatment.

Overall, Sobolik said the move to the more expansive new facility represents an adjustment for a student population of mostly first- and second-year students. Students beyond that level, such as third- and fourth-year M.D. candidates, are usually in the field on hospital and clinical rotations.

“Where we’re hopefully going to see that benefit is down the road, when these students graduate … that they have more of a team-based approach and aren’t afraid to get to know their team members,” said Sobolik.

The notion of an “owned” space for any one discipline is relatively unseen in the building. Rather, different areas are color-coded to denote general purpose, and classrooms are marked by yellow-paned glass and carpet accents, while labs are blue and offices are orange.

Even still, certain parts of the school are specifically devoted to a single study area. Those places are easily distinguished by the equipment they contain.
An occupational therapy room on one end of the building is structured to look like a home setting, complete with simulated kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and functional washing and drying machines. A different room holds racks of colorful exercise balls for use by physical therapy students, many of whom lined up in rows Tuesday to demonstrate their skills in a practical exam.

Physical therapy instruction falls under the focus of Thomas Mohr, SMHS associate dean for health sciences and a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor. As Mohr observed the paired-off students going through their practical exams, he commented on the marked improvement of the space.

Prior to the move into a new building, Mohr said physical therapy students were conducting such exams in a converted laundry room.

“It was terrible,” he said as he stood in the expansive new studio. “There were posts everywhere and you couldn’t see much.”

Mohr said the open spaces of the new building were a major asset, as was the abundant light.

“Everything was dark over there, but this is really cool,” he said.

Randy Eken, SMHS associate dean of administration and finance, said his new office has a direct view of the old building, in which he’d previously held an office for about 32 years.

Eken said it’s “kind of weird” and a little bit sad to see the old building from his new window, but said overall he’d been pleasantly anticipating the move throughout the construction phase.

“I think we were all looking forward to that, and modernizing everything,” he said. “There were some mixed feelings, but it worked out well.”

That modernization has translated well among the school’s students. Freeberg said the move over to the updated labs had been a significant but worthy effort.

“It’s way more upscale and it has a lot more space,” she said. “It was a lot of work to transition everything over here, but now it’s up and running and it works great.”

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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