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St. Vincent dedicates science pavilion

Herman Dupre has fond memories of his time as a chemistry student at St. Vincent College in the early 1950s.

"When I went to school here, our science lab was a Bunsen burner and a marble-top desk," said Dupre, a 1953 graduate.

Thanks in part to Dupre, his family and friends -- notably his wife, Sis, and their nine daughters -- science students at St. Vincent won't be stuck with primitive equipment in the classroom and labs.

The college's new $39 million, 110,000-square-foot educational facility -- the Sis and Herman Dupre Science Pavilion -- will be dedicated today to the couple in recognition of a $7.6 million gift from their family and friends.

The facility, which houses classrooms, labs, offices and a planetarium as part of the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing, has been in use since the first phase of the project was completed this fall. The remaining work should be completed by the end of 2012.

School officials hope the new pavilion brings all elements of an education in science together.

"In the 1960s, when the science center was initially built, science was done discreetly. There was a separate building for chemistry, biology, physics," said Benedictine Brother Norman Hipps, president of the college. "Since then, science has become more of a team project."

"We know so much more today about how students learn about science," said John Smetanka, vice president for academic affairs. "Students don't learn best by sitting in a classroom; they learn by investigating and discovering.

"This building will allow students to engage in the process of discovery with each other, the faculty and the community," Smetanka said.

Archabbot Douglas Nowicki said the pavilion is "the realization of a dream."

"This building stands as a symbol to future generations," Nowicki said. "Herman Dupre is really one of the fine examples of a willingness to commit to the future, which assures us there will be future Herman Dupres."

Dupre realizes the leaps that education has taken from the days of Bunsen burners. An inventor and entrepreneur, he holds 34 U.S. patents and developed one of the largest snowmaking systems in the world at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, which was owned and operated by the Dupre family for decades. Now Dupre hopes his passion for education can help others like him get a jumpstart on their careers.

"My wife, Sis, and I really value education, and I've always done all I can to help educate my children and now my grandchildren," Dupre said. "St. Vincent has become a leader in technology. I feel deeply privileged and honored just to be a part of it."

Guests at today's dedication will be able to view some of that technology, including the planetarium and astronaut exhibit, which can be used to explore space by either telescope or interactive video, including panoramic photographs of Mars.

Smetanka said the planetarium and other technology, which will also be used for public shows, are recruitment tools as much as educational tools.

"If by using this technology, we can get more students interested in science, mathematics or computer sciences, we will have accomplished one of the goals of this building," he said.

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