The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $1.2 million to Mary Baldwin University for renovations to Pearce Science Center, an overhaul that will improve research facilities for the largest college primarily for women in Virginia.

“This substantial investment by the NSF affirms the excellence of faculty-student collaborative research at Mary Baldwin University and will facilitate even greater opportunities for undergraduate research in the sciences,” said Catharine O’Connell, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the college.

The grant, which goes into effect October 1, will help transform more than 7,000 square feet of research space within Pearce, establishing four interdisciplinary laboratories for collaborative research.

Mary Baldwin promotes serious undergraduate research and strives to boost student and faculty cooperation in scientific disciplines. Recent student research projects have included examining endocrine-disrupting compounds in local waterways and investigating ways to slow the growth of prostate cancer. Mary Baldwin students regularly present their findings at regional, national, and international conferences.

National Science Foundation

NSF grant applications are rigorously screened by a panel of scientists to ensure that funding goes to the most deserving projects.

“NSF is among the most prestigious science funding agencies on the planet, and we see this as confirmation by scientists that our enthusiastic embrace of undergraduate research is both important and effective,” said Chair of the Chemistry and Physics Department Karl Zachary. “This will help put Mary Baldwin on the map as an exceptionally strong college for preparing women for careers in science.”

Part of $31 billion in Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds allocated to science research and education, the NSF grant comes at a particularly advantageous time for the college. In May, the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation of Richmond awarded Mary Baldwin a $100,000 challenge grant toward Pearce renovations and in August, Mary Baldwin officially launched four Schools of Excellence, including the School of Science. The new academic structure helps foster cross-disciplinary research, a valuable component to science education.

Fully renovating Pearce — the 40-year-old, four-story, 46,000-square foot building near the intersection of Frederick and North Coalter streets — is a top priority for Mary Baldwin, which hopes to pay for the rest of the project through a dedicated fundraising campaign. Construction for this first phase is expected to begin in May 2011 and will continue through August 2012.