Mason, Smithsonian Break Ground on Conservation Complex

Posted: July 1, 2011 at 8:56 am, Last Updated: July 1, 2011 at 8:58 am

By Tara Laskowski

From left, Mason President Alan Merten, SCBI Director Steve Monfort, and Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough at the groundbreaking. Photo by Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo

Scientists and educators from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and Mason donned their hard hats and dusted off their shovels on June 29 to break ground on a green-design conservation complex that embodies the concept of the living classroom.

The three new buildings will house classrooms, laboratories, dining and events facilities, dormitories and study halls. The complex will be LEED-certified Gold Standard and will model the best green practices, such as employing green-roof technology and geothermal heating and cooling, composting kitchen waste, reusing rainwater and managing storm water.

Since October 2008, the Smithsonian-Mason Global Conservation Studies Program has trained future conservationists with an interdisciplinary and interactive program at SCBI headquarters at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park’s 3,200-acre facility in Front Royal, Va., where 22 species — most of them little-known and endangered birds and mammals — provide ideal subjects for intensive study.

There, undergraduate, graduate and professional students from the United States and abroad participate in courses taught by prominent scientists and educators from the zoo, Mason and other institutions.

Merten, Clough and others tour the grounds at the Front Royal, Va., facility. Photo by Evan Cantwell

The Smithsonian-Mason Program began with 15 undergraduate students in 2008. When the expansion is complete in fall 2012, SCBI Front Royal will be able to accept 60 undergraduate students and 60 graduate students and professionals.

“There is no greater goal than to invest in educating and training the next generation of conservation professionals,” said Steve Monfort, director of SCBI and co-founder of the Smithsonian-Mason Program. “By improving science-related education and engaging students in ways that provide them with hands-on experience, we’re fulfilling that goal.”

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Mason president Alan Merten and Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian, spoke about the expansion project.

Two graduates of the Smithsonian-Mason program, Michelle Waterman and Joanna Lambert, offered insight about their experiences as participants of the program.

Also in attendance at the ceremony were Eva Pell, the Smithsonian’s under secretary for science; Roger Sant, regent of the Smithsonian; Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo; Monfort; and Alonso Aguirre, executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason Program.

“We are extremely excited to literally build upon this unique partnership between two highly regarded institutions,” said Aguirre. “These new facilities will allow our students to live and learn in a collaborative environment where conservation is happening every day.”

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