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Students will get their first look inside Oechsle Hall, which promises to make Lafayette’s popular programs in psychology and neuroscience even stronger, when fall semester classes start Monday, Aug. 26.

A dedication ceremony is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 18.

Created through a major transformation of Alumni Memorial Gymnasium, the 45,000-square-foot facility will be named for Walter Oechsle ’57 and Christa Oechsle (the name is pronounced OX-lee) in recognition of their commitment of $10 million to the Lafayette Leadership Campaign. It includes teaching laboratories, classrooms, faculty research laboratories, student research laboratories, and faculty offices.

Three remote observation laboratories will allow for the unobtrusive study of birds, fish, and people. Awards of $150,000 from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation and $85,000 from Alden Trust funded equipment for the instructional laboratories.

“The excitement of moving to Oechsle Hall is electric,” says Alan W. Childs, professor and head of psychology. “Imagine a separate, dedicated laboratory for every lab-based class, a research space for every faculty member, dedicated research and workspace for students conducting projects for advanced research or honors. And more – a 150-seat lecture hall with full audiovisual equipment, a computer laboratory, a 50-seat ‘smart’ classroom, seminar rooms, and gathering areas in each corner of the building. We can hardly wait!”

While the location of faculty offices in academic buildings is typically strategic, it’s particularly significant that in Oechsle Hall, they are clustered together on the fourth level, rather than interspersed among the labs on the levels below.

That’s exactly how the faculty wanted it, says Ann V. McGillicuddy-DeLisi, Metzgar Professor of Psychology and Wendy L. Hill, William C. ’67 and Pamela H. Rappolt Professor in Neuroscience. They assert that faculty cohesiveness is a key strength of the programs.

“The faculty want connection and camaraderie,” says Hill, who was named Pennsylvania’s Professor of the Year in 1999 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. “We would rather have offices next to our colleagues than next to our research labs.”

The configuration also speaks to the faculty’s focus on students, adds McGillicuddy-DeLisi, who is co-editor of Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. There is one teaching lab – for the introductory psychology course – right in the center, surrounded by the offices.

“The position of the intro lab among the offices is symbolic,” she says. “The faculty have shared goals, and they mostly revolve around students, around teaching, around the question, ‘What do we want the students to take away from the program?’ We coalesce around that.”

Both psychology and neuroscience are attracting highly capable students in high numbers. Psychology, including the A.B. and B.S. programs, ranks among the six most popular majors at Lafayette. Psychology is a very popular minor, also.

The combination of behavioral neuroscience and neuroscience is among the top 10 majors. This is the final year of a transformation of the behavioral neuroscience major into a neuroscience major. For members of the last four graduating classes, the major was behavioral neuroscience. This year’s seniors (class of 2003) have both options open to them. Beginning with the class of 2004, all majors will be in neuroscience.

Neuroscience is “a true joint major between psychology and biology,” Hill says. In addition to Hill and McGillicuddy-DeLisi, neuroscience faculty include Matthew S. McGlone, associate professor of psychology, Gabrielle B. Britton, assistant professor of psychology; Wayne S. Leibel, associate professor and head of biology; Bruce A. Young, associate professor of biology, and Elaine R. Reynolds, assistant professor of biology.

“Lafayette is poised to have one of the pre-eminent neuroscience programs at the undergraduate level in the country,” says Julio J. Ramirez, R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology at Davidson College, who conducted a review of Lafayette’s program as founding president of Project Kaleidoscope, a National Science Foundation-funded alliance to strengthen undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology.

The faculty’s dedication to students is reflected in many ways, including their mentoring in independent studies, EXCEL Scholars research collaborations, and year-long senior projects leading to departmental honors. In the past two graduating classes, eight psychology majors and four neuroscience and behavioral neuroscience majors have earned honors.

Tana Zerr ’02 graduated with honors in psychology after traveling to Japan this past school year to conduct research for a senior thesis on attribution theory, which explores the assumptions people make about why others behave the way they do. Zerr administered a survey to 150 students in Japan and 150 in the United States.

“We have some of the best professors who could possibly be out there,” says Zerr ’02, who was mentored by John S. Shaw III, associate professor of psychology. “I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am that I came here.”

Mark Palmieri ’02 earned honors in psychology under the guidance of Susan A. Basow, Dana Professor of Psychology. His thesis examines individual differences in humans’ understanding of nonverbal communication.

“Within my department, students present research ideas on a wide variety of psychological issues and have been successful in fulfilling their research desires,” Palmeiri says. “One of the greatest assets of the department is a faculty with diverse research interests that encourages students to explore.”

Last spring, neuroscience major John Hammond ’03 conducted an independent study under Childs’ supervision in which he investigated the relationship between the functions of the brain and the phenomena of social contagion, the behavior of people in large groups.

Hammond says small classes in his major allow for personal interaction with professors, who make a concerted effort to get to know each student. The opening of Oechsle Hall will make studying psychology and neuroscience at Lafayette even more appealing, he adds.

“Lafayette College is making every attempt to stay state-of-the-art and provide the best learning and research facilities possible,” he says.

Hammond and four other neuroscience majors are conducting cutting-edge research this summer with leaders in the field through the Lafayette’s new Alumni Research Network, which has received a grant from the McCutcheon Foundation.

Categorized in: Academic News