UNK's new Discovery Hall represents 'future of higher education'

Photo by Todd Gottula, UNK Communications

UNK hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday afternoon to celebrate the grand opening of Discovery Hall, a 90,000-square-foot STEM facility completed this summer. (Photo by Todd Gottula, UNK Communications)

KEARNEY – Discovery Hall is much more than a fancy, new addition to the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus.

The state-of-the-art STEM facility will revolutionize higher education and workforce development in Nebraska.

"This building is the future of higher education. It's not just experiential. It's immersive. It's interactive. It brings a whole new definition to hybrid education," University of Nebraska President Ted Carter said Monday afternoon during a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the university system's newest academic building.

Speaking to about 150 guests gathered outside the three-story, 90,000-square-foot structure, Carter said Discovery Hall will take UNK to a new level by offering multidisciplinary, cross-functional education that prepares students for the high-skill, high-wage jobs that are in high demand across the state and country.

"This building will serve as that mechanism, that pathway, to create the success of our students," he said.

Located on UNK's west campus, Discovery Hall was designed specifically for the science, technology, engineering and math programs that will drive economic growth in greater Nebraska. The building features cutting-edge technology, modern classrooms and interactive lab spaces that provide hands-on learning opportunities in real-world, on-the-job settings.

There's a flight simulator for aviation instruction, a large, touchscreen video wall for digital exploration and a virtual reality and robotics lab. Programs such as industrial distribution, construction management, interior and product design, physics, engineering and cyber systems also have their own lab spaces for specialized training and advanced research.

An open floor plan promotes collaboration and innovation among students, staff and faculty from different academic departments, and the layout allows visitors to observe lab and classroom activities.

"The name Discovery Hall is so appropriate," UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen said. "This building is not a lecture hall. This building is all about discovering new things and having people work together. Truly, there will be lots discovered in this building, and it's going to benefit our students and our state."

Kristensen said the first-class facility will change Nebraska by offering opportunities for current and future students that "we've never dreamed of before."

"That's really what Discovery Hall is all about in my book. It's our promise to future generations," Kristensen said. "We promise them a world of discovery."

Built by Lincoln-based Hausmann Construction, which also contributed funding to the project, Discovery Hall was completed this summer and classes started there Aug. 24.

UNK Student Body President Max Beal, who watched the building take shape over the past two-plus years, called Monday's grand-opening celebration an exciting day for Lopers.

"I don't believe a campus is defined by brick and mortar alone, but make no mistake, projects like this really do impact students," Beal said. "Discovery Hall will be an asset in recruiting talent to our campus, just as it will be an asset in enhancing the way we go about learning."

Describing the building as "nothing less than top-notch," Beal said Discovery Hall is an investment in education that will pay dividends for decades to come.

"There's no doubt this building will be an asset to the state of Nebraska that enables UNK to better train our student body – the future of Nebraska's workforce who will stay here and continue to create value in our state," he said.

Discovery Hall was constructed as part of a $30 million project replacing Otto C. Olsen, a 65-year-old industrial arts building that was on the state's capital construction replacement list for more than two decades. The new STEM building was paid for by renewal bonds and through a state bill that directed deferred maintenance funding to NU facility replacement projects.

Approved in 2016, Kristensen said the state funding demonstrates the Legislature's commitment to growing rural Nebraska.

"Now the ball is in our court to show them what we can do with those facilities," he said.



Academic programs: Astronomy, aviation systems, business intelligence, computer science, construction management, cybersecurity, engineering, industrial distribution, information networking and telecommunications, information technology, interior and product design, mathematics and statistics, physics.

Construction start: May 2018

Opened: August 2020

Size: 90,000 square feet

Cost: Part of a $30 million project replacing Otto C. Olsen, which was built in 1955 and has been on the state's capital construction replacement list for more than 20 years.

Funding: The building was paid for by renewal bonds and through state appropriation from LB957, which included the University of Nebraska Facilities Program of 2016. That appropriation directed deferred maintenance funding to facility replacement projects, including the Otto Olsen building.

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