WEST HARTFORD — The University of Hartford has debuted a new 60,000-square-foot academic building on campus that supports the fields of aerospace, nursing, robotics and physical therapy.

The Francis X. and Nancy Hursey Center for Advanced Engineering and Health Professions was built during the pandemic. It houses classes for the school’s College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture and the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions.

On Thursday, the school celebrated with a grand opening and open house, allowing outside guests to visit the state-of-the-art facility for the first time.

There was a common theme that day among faculty and students who were on hand: opportunity.

Inside the robotics lab, faculty member Kiwon Sohn said more students will gain more hands-on experiences inside the new building.

“We have a much bigger space than before,” Sohn said. “We now have enough space for experimentation.”

Sohn showed off two different kinds of robots that students who pursue a career in robotics or engineering would encounter in the real world outside of college.

“One of the most important goals is giving them a good career right after graduation,” Sohn said. “That’s why we purchased these robots.”

Hisham Alnajjar, dean of the College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture, said the new space is great, but the more important thing is the people and technology that they fill it with.

“At the end of the day it’s about the students,” Alnajjar said. “We have small class sizes and we emphasize hands-on. Students can come in and experience doing things. They learn, they design, they innovate. We push that cycle. A new space like this helps with that cycle. That’s what we’re all about.”

Opportunity comes in droves for students in his department with the expansion of the makerspace, which features two dozen 3D printers compared to the six that were previously available to students.

“We want them to go and learn,” Alnajjar said. “At 17 years old, kids maybe never used a screwdriver. Now we have the makerspace which is open for them. All the tools they need we have. Our goal is that they learn how to use their tools and they become better designers.”

Jeremy Furusho, a junior at the university, was standing outside the turbomachinery lab. He’s studying mechanical engineering and acoustics.

“There’s a lot of opportunity,” Furusho said. “There’s a lot of equipment used in here that’s used in the industry. It’s a really exciting opportunity. We can get experience on real world items.”

That equipment includes a wind tunnel, a water tunnel and other large pieces students have been able to actually use consistently.

“This is exactly the type of thing you would use to test airflow,” Furusho said. “We’re learning about this and now we can see it in action. The application of it is huge. I’m a visual person and I like to see things in action and be hands on. That’s one of the biggest advantages to this space.”

Chris Jasinski, a graduate of the university, has been a faculty member there the last few years and will be teaching classes in the turbomachinery lab. He sees it as an all-encompassing opportunity for students.

“The primary thing is that the four of these tunnels cover the whole breadth of what a student would need to learn about aerospace testing,” Jasinski said. “Between the four, it really covers all the bases that someone who needs to start a job at Pratt and Whitney or go and do an advanced degree in aerospace or turbomachinery.”

The building is also home to the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions.

Cesarina Thompson is the dean of that college. She sees the new space as being able to provide a truly collaborative opportunity for the students studying to enter different health fields.

“This really will allow to better prepare our students from across a variety of health professions and to collaborate and communicate with each other and improve patient care outcomes. That’s the ultimate outcome,” Thompson said. “We can collectively think about it. In the past, everyone was educated in silos. When I went to school I didn’t work with anyone else. So this is wonderful. We can bring people together.”

An exciting addition to their program is the immersive simulation center. Walking in, the space mirrors the wing of a hospital, with four distinct rooms that students will be able to enter and immerse themselves in healthcare.

With a click of a button, a small child-sized mannequin comes to life. Its eyes move and it begins to speak. Through that, faculty members can program a scenario and guide students through what it might be like to provide healthcare to an actual human.

“In a room like this we might bring in a nursing student and a physical therapist student,” Thompson said. “Or we might have them enter at different times because that’s what really happens in a hospital setting. I may be the nurse administrating medications and the PT walks in for their session. And then we have to work together to reposition the patient and get the patient out of bed.”

Down the hall, there are outpatient rooms that seem pulled right out of a doctor’s office. There’s even a space for in-home care, complete with a full kitchen and bathroom.

Together, students learn not only about their own focus of study, but about the ones of the students around them, Thompson said.

“They are understanding what they are doing and how that contributes to the patient care,” Thompson said. “It’s a great way to simulate the real world.”

Connecticut Media Group