The modernization of McCarthy Hall’s second floor will encourage “more of those essential interactions that happen outside the classroom,” says Merri Lynn Casem, chair of the Department of Biological Science. The new design includes huddle spaces that promote meaningful peer-to-peer discussions and comfortable and accessible environments that facilitate impactful conversations between faculty and students.
“I’ve been here at Cal State Fullerton since 1979, and I started as a liberal studies major,” Casem says. “I took a biology class that opened my mind to becoming a biology major. Conversations with Gene Jones [professor emeritus of biological science, who passed away in November 2020] convinced me to go into teaching, which was a 180-degree change from where I thought my life was going to go.
She says sharing the right words with the right student at the right time can change their lives.
“Whether they will become a teacher, a researcher, a surgeon, or a lab technician, it’s about creating opportunities for each of our students to be successful – and inspiring that future will start on the second floor,” Casem says.
An Inspiring Space for Students
“We want this building to be the beating heart of science on our campus” says Marie Johnson, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, describing the college’s vision for the dramatic modernization efforts currently underway in McCarthy Hall.
“This renovation project will allow us to make the building – beginning with the second floor – an attractive place to do and discuss math and science, a place where anyone who walks through it knows science is happening,” Johnson says.
“Whether they will become a teacher, a researcher, a surgeon, or a lab technician, it’s about creating opportunities for each of our students to be successful – and inspiring that future will start on the second floor.”
Merri Lynn Casem, chair of the Department of Biological Science
“Before it was taken down to the studs, the second floor was a lot of drab interiors and long hallways with closed doors. Soon it will feature a lot of glass, light, and openness; science on display; and graphics about science. In addition to three upgraded research labs, multiple teaching labs, and new classrooms, we’re really trying to create an informal student learning space where students can study and collaborate.”
Known as a “sticky space,” the model for the second floor design involves elements that attract, inspire, energize, and accommodate individuals and groups of students with features like plenty of natural light, well-placed white boards and monitors, and device charging stations. Because the vast majority of Cal State Fullerton’s more than 40,000 students are commuters, this is an essential space where they can study and reenergize between classes, once the threat of COVID-19 has passed.
Casem is looking forward to the day when students and faculty “walk on to the second floor and don’t recognize it.”
“Any students or alumni who’ve been here will know the experience of walking down the hallways in McCarthy Hall, stepping over the legs of students sitting on the floor outside classrooms,” Casem says. “Now all those legs will have places to get up and walk to, places to study with friends and plug in their electronics.”
Tour the modernized facilities using virtual reality:
Seeing Science in Action
For the Department of Biological Science, the McCarthy Hall modernization means upgraded classrooms for courses in anatomy and physiology, plant and animal biology, herpetology, ornithology, ecology, and more; an upgrade to the Faye McFadden Herbarium – an important teaching and research resource; and two modernized research labs. An updated computer classroom and a new supplemental instruction space where undergraduates can meet with peer mentors and faculty will further enhance the student experience.
Adam Woods, professor and chair of the Department of Geological Sciences, says his students and faculty are looking forward to updated lab and classroom facilities, a more welcoming environment, and especially the second floor’s “science on display” element.
“Our teaching and research labs will be visible to the general student body and public, and we will be able to show off our latest research results, and not just as posters,” Woods says. “The ‘science on display’ windows will allow us to show research materials like fossils, rocks, drill cores, and so on. Screens on walls will allow us to stream current geologic and meteorologic activity, like volcanic eruptions and hurricanes. And wall displays will give us space for permanent educational resources, like earthquake fault trench logs that could be used in our classes.”
Woods says McCarthy Hall’s upgrades will “allow us to use the building for another 60 years and continue to prepare scientists who will meet the needs of Orange County employers and beyond.”
Leaving a Lasting Legacy
Upon its completion in 1963, the Science Building – as it was known before 1984 – was the largest building in a state college system and one of the largest in the nation. Its six floors are nearly an acre each, accommodating 300,000 square feet of classroom, laboratory, office, and multipurpose space, as well as a full basement. The building’s eventual namesake was Miles McCarthy, one of the first five permanent professors at Cal State Fullerton; chair of the division of science, engineering, and mathematics; and chair of the biology department from 1958 to 1965. He carefully crafted plans for what the building should encompass to best meet the needs of budding scientists.
The $40 million project includes a complete overhaul of the science building’s second floor, as well as fire, health, and safety updates – like sprinkler systems, elevators, fire risers, and seismic upgrades – throughout the entire building.
The McCarthy Hall project presents a multitude of naming opportunities for donors looking to support the college and create a living legacy within one of its busiest buildings. From informal learning suites to teaching labs and lecture spaces, opportunities abound for donors to see their names permanently attached to an important space while their gift is directed to student scholarships, undergraduate research, graduate student support, or whatever other endeavor they choose.
“We don’t have many spaces on campus named for people – this is a unique opportunity to really leave a legacy through philanthropy, in a beautiful and meaningful space for our college,” Johnson says.
Casem says these naming opportunities offer a way to show students how successful alumni have been, and open their minds to possible career paths.
“We talk a lot about building our community and that extends to folks who came before,” she says. “In addition to seeing someone’s name on a room, I’d want to know who that person is, what they’ve done, and why we care about their story.”
Making McCarthy Hall’s Potential Match That of Students
The college chose to start with McCarthy’s Hall’s second floor, Johnson says, because of its potential to be a “truly awesome” space. The second floor features a “diamond in the rough” outdoor terrace that connects to the student quad, an element Johnson and other college leaders envision as eventually accommodating comfortable outdoor seating and charging stations. There is also an elevated bridge that connects to Dan Black Hall.
“The idea is that a student will be able to walk into one of the largest informal indoor/outdoor student spaces, see science in action, and then cross the second floor bridge connecting our two buildings,” Johnson says. “We want students across the campus to know what we do and what goes on in our buildings. We should not be isolated on our own campus. Our students do amazing things, and we’re trying to catch our facilities up to what they do and give them all the resources they need to go from here to establish meaningful careers.”