In about eight months, the University of Oregon will open the new Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact — also known around Eugene as the Knight Campus — with an expanded footprint of nearly double the square footage than first introduced and expanded programs for students.
It’s a $1 billion project that has dominated the north end of campus since winter 2018, with nearly 400,000 square feet of modern, towering architecture coming into form along the busy Franklin Boulevard.
It’s one of more than 10 construction or remodel projects happening on UO’s campus this year — including some that already wrapped such as the new Tykeson Hall — and many students, faculty and others at UO still are unclear on what the construction is for or what it means for campus.
The goal of bringing the Knight Campus to UO is to have a major research-oriented center with scientific programs and innovation, particularly in areas such as origins of diseases and developing new technologies to improve medicine.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s still left to be done and what students and faculty can expect.
The latest on the Knight Campus is that it will be taking up more real estate than originally expected.
Robert Guldberg, Knight Campus vice president and executive director, told the Board of Trustees at a Sept. 6 meeting that the campus now includes a third building. This third building will be constructed on a lot on the north side of the millrace, which is a slough or creek, behind the Franklin-facing Knight Campus buildings.
“One of the things I actually didn’t fully appreciate when I first came was that the original ask for $1 billion was really for the buildings you see on (the south) side of the millrace,” he said.
“At the time (the campus) was described as being three buildings — we combined two of those buildings into one, and that’s the current building that’s finishing up in June.”
But later there was an opportunity for UO to buy the lot on the other side of the millrace, which was home to a large parking lot before. The land cost $3.7 million to buy the lot from the city of Eugene’s Urban Renewal Agency.
“That effectively allowed the vision to almost double in terms of the square footage from about 220,000 square feet to almost 400,000,” Guldberg told the board.
Last year, UO was planning a $1 million enhancement project to the short stretch of the millrace directly next to campus, including new bridges, a new boardwalk and environmental work to improve water quality.
The UO still plans to make these enhancements, according to Knight Campus spokesperson Zack Barnett.
Construction of the Knight Campus has been underway for nearly a year, but those who have driven down Franklin Boulevard lately likely have noticed the tall, new building sided with sleek, reflective glass and a modern skybridge spanning the six lanes of traffic.
This is the first of three Knight Campus buildings to come. It is 160,000 square feet, cost $225 million to construct and is scheduled to open in spring 2020. Right now, there are about 150 trade workers on the site and the UO expects to have about 100 more on site in the next few months, said UO spokesperson Kay Jarvis in an email.
More than 225,000 people-hours have been spent working on the site since construction started. The project is on budget and on schedule.
“Crews are currently adding exterior glass and working on a connector between the two towers that make up the first building,” Jarvis said.
The skybridge is another major addition that has finally come to form. It closed lanes of traffic for overnight work on the busy street for months to connect the two campuses. It is 190 feet long, weighs about 500 tons and will have a walking area 14 feet wide.
Crews wrapped overnight work on the bridge earlier this month and reopened some lanes of traffic, but they have now moved work to the inside of the bridge.
Once finished next spring, the skybridge will connect the Knight Campus to UO’s existing science building off Onyx Street and Franklin Boulevard, which will be used mostly by students and staff.
New hires, programs with collaboration at center
The Knight Campus is a major facility donated by Phil & Penny Knight, designed to give UO a facility focused on science and space to do innovative research.
As it nears time to open it to students and faculty, directors are working to add new programs, expand internship opportunities and bring more top-tier faculty into the fold.
Some significant additions coming to UO because of the Knight Campus already have been announced, including a bioengineering program and joint graduate programs with Oregon Health Sciences University and Oregon State University.
The bioengineering program will prioritize neuroengineering and musculoskeletal engineering. Other areas of focus include precision medicine technology, predicting complex biological systems and synthetic biology/molecular engineering, according to the strategic plan.
Another goal is to draw graduate students to the Knight Campus, in part by offering joint graduate programs between the two other Oregon universities.
With OHSU, the program would be in biomedical engineering, which works alongside a $10 million grant the UO received this year to create a joint center in biomedical data science to detect and fight cancer and other diseases.
With OSU, the partnership will be in graduate bioengineering.
The number of faculty slated to work at the Knight Campus also is growing, with about 37 faculty across campus already selected by application to be affiliated or associated with the research campus.
Beyond that, UO received 170 applications for tenure-related faculty positions in center’s bioengineering program. Four were hired from that pool this spring.
Tim Gardner is the new chair for the neuroengineering department. Keat Ghee Ong, who works with biomedical devices and sensors, will be a professor. Marian Hettiaratchi, who specializes in regenerative medicine, will be an assistant professor, and Calin Plesa, who looks at synthetic and molecular biology, was hired as an assistant professor.
For undergraduates, the center also is offering a scholars program that gives students support to do research. Students selected for the program get matched with a mentor to work with on their research proposal for a year. UO will start accepting applications this fall and the new cohort will start the program in January.
The Knight Campus also is continuing an internship program focused on science. It has been around for about 20 years at UO, but now will be integrated into the Knight Campus. The program is a preparation program for master’s degree students that lasts 15-18 months. It’s intensive, with months of classes first, then the internship.
“We had our largest class of over 90 students that were admitted this year,” Guldberg said.
Impact on students, faculty
While these programs have been announced and the Knight Campus already started developing research, many students and some faculty on campus Friday still don’t know much about it beyond that it’s a massive construction project near campus.
Neven Shervais transferred to UO last year to study business and also is a personal trainer at the recreation center with a background in human physiology. Shervais admitted to knowing hardly anything about the Knight Campus, but perked up after hearing it would have a focus on musculoskeletal and biomedical engineering.
“That’s right up my alley,” Shervais said. “It would be really nice to use the (Knight Campus) resources to further my own knowledge and also help my clients.”
When asked, many new and returning students echoed Shervais in saying they don’t know much about it or what will be available to them. Some faculty said the same.
However, Areeb Alam, a recent graduate who was studying in the student union Friday, knew more about the Knight Campus.
“It’s pretty cool in the long run because it brings more research to the university and brings it to the same caliber as the Ivy League (colleges),” or at least closer to them, Alam said. “But in the short run, it’s hard because there’s so much construction on campus.”
Alam graduated in June with a degree in economics, but wasn’t disappointed in not being able to use the Knight Campus, because it doesn’t seem to be meant for students, he said.
“But mainly to bring prestige and research to the university,” Alam said.
Others who are most familiar with the new addition are, as could be expected, groups that will be directly affected by the Knight Campus or already work closely to the university’s sciences.
The UO’s Women in Graduate Science group is one looking forward to having a space in the Knight Campus, and the work they do there likely will extend to the greater community.
As the Knight Campus was being designed, those in charge of that process reached out to student groups, including Women in Graduate Science, to hear their needs, said group president Michelle Massaquoi.
A major request was enough storage for items used for outreach and events. “But also we wanted tables where we could bring them together for groups, so we could bring young girls and students together to do work on the Knight Campus,” she said.
The group has “extensive programming” to support their mission for gender equality and to create a space where people of all genders, though specifically women, can feel accepted in the sciences. This includes a lot of partner work with young girls in elementary through high school who are interested in science.
Providing a space for groups such as Women in Science to bring in a younger generation is important, said former president of the group Kimberly Jones. This is why they also are pushing for the Knight Campus hiring committee to be inclusive and diverse to hopefully bring in that representation.
“It really helps especially young girls and those that are in the lower ranks of science (like undergraduates) to be able to see women attaining higher levels in their fields, and keeps them interested and helps them believe they can also attain those higher levels,” Jones said.
But what Massaquoi said she is most excited for is the ability to collaborate with other scientists, because when she is working on her research it’s in just one way specific to her own scientific discipline.
“But when you get to collaborate with people in different disciplines, they’re thinking about it in a different way that can really accelerate your research,” she said, and so having new connections and resources at the campus will help ensure new discoveries don’t just sit on a shelf somewhere and people can actually use them.
That communication piece is where Bryan Rebar, associate director for STEM Core at UO, sees his new role in the Knight Campus.
STEM Core is a center on campus that supports pathways to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, careers by working on grant-funded projects and getting information about those projects out to students and the community in the clearest way possible.
With this newly revitalized emphasis on scientific research, Rebar anticipates the role of STEM Core will be to bring further understanding about the work coming out of the Knight Campus for those who aren’t in the science community.
“We are really trying to make a name for ourselves as an institution in science,” he said. One part of that is in actually doing the research.
“The other part of that is efforts to communicate and share what’s learned and involve students and others in understanding and getting involved in science.”
Rebar sees the Knight Campus putting UO on the map for science and research they’ve been doing for years.
“It’s certainly going to help with the recognition and the reputation of the university that we’re on the cutting edge of research and sciences,” Rebar said. “I’m not sure that’s always been clear.”
By: Jordyn Brown; The Register-Guard (Eugene) on September 30, 2019