Chancellor's Blog

SciTech supporters

State investment in SciTech Innovation Center critical to future

Friday, April 12, 2019 | Dean Van Galen

With the approach of another commencement, I am reminded of the transformational impact that public higher education has on individuals, on our state and on the world. While the most essential elements of a UW-River Falls education are human—outstanding faculty and staff and dedicated, hard-working students—modern facilities that support teaching and learning are also critical.  

At a time when we are encouraging our policymakers to renew and enhance funding for the UW System operating budget and for fair, fully-funded state employee compensation adjustments, we must be aware that it is also time for Wisconsin to invest in modern science facilities at UWRF. As requested by the UW System Board of Regents, the state should allocate at least $4.25 million in planning funds in its 2019-21 budget for the Science and Technology Innovation Center (SciTech).

You can learn more about the SciTech project online, at, but here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Current laboratory facilities in the Agricultural Science building and Centennial Science Hall are aging. Infrastructure issues abound, such as outdated, barely-safe electrical and ventilation systems and non-collaborative layouts that do not support interactive teaching and learning. 
  • UWRF students regularly report that our laboratory facilities are inferior to those they experienced in high school.
  • Local employers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields can attest that our facilities do not reflect the state-of-the-art resources graduates will need to use once they are part of the workforce.
  • Last year, 31% of UWRF’s undergraduate degrees were in STEM fields—among the highest rates in the UW System. 
  • New freshman enrollment in STEM/Health majors grew 40% between 2013 and 2016, in part driven by newly available academic programs such as agricultural engineering, data science, neuroscience, food science and technology and a companion animal emphasis in animal science. 
  • Increasing numbers of students across campus are also benefitting from our commitment to undergraduate research, exploring hands-on work with peers and faculty that enhance their educational experiences outside of the classroom. 
  • Two-thirds of UWRF students take at least one laboratory-based course before they graduate, and many students across campus are increasingly interested in innovation, business development and prototyping. 
  • SciTech will support demand for talent development in STEM-related areas while also supporting excellence and growth in UWRF’s signature agricultural programs. 
  • SciTech will also allow for unprecedented engagement with regional businesses with its proposed UW-River Falls/Business Innovation Collaboration Space intended to foster business growth and increase public-private opportunities for engagement between UWRF faculty, staff and students and industry professionals and entrepreneurs. 
  • Strong support for this project has already been expressed by the City of River Falls and our local economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, and businesses in the region. 

Ultimately, SciTech is not just a building, but rather a testament to our 125-year legacy serving the region by educating students for rewarding careers and engaged, productive lives. It took over 20 years for the state to fund and build the UWRF Falcon Center. Our students, faculty, and community cannot afford to lose that much time on this project. If you wish to express your support for SciTech, visit and click “I’m a SciTech Advocate.”

Abridged version of opinion piece published by the River Falls Journal, April 10, 2019.