One building, six programs, infinite possibilities

Digital rendering of HSEB building

New health sciences building to feature active learning and cross-disciplinary education

Written by Meredith Bailey

Photos by Elizar Mercado


Hulking concrete structures with maze-like hallways and auditorium-style lecture halls are the architectural mainstays of many college campuses, but the University of Washington is intentionally constructing a different kind of space — one that invites collaboration, creativity and community.

The new Health Sciences Education Building, slated to open in 2022, will be nestled in the heart of south campus along Pacific Avenue. The 4-story, 110,000 square-foot building is designed to be a hub for all six health sciences schools, where students in dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health and social work can spend the day learning, both in and outside the classroom.

The building’s exterior will feature light-reflecting glass and metal surfaces, a courtyard and terrace, but what’s most striking is on the inside: an array of spaces — from large classrooms that accommodate up to 140 students to small break-out rooms for groups of eight — dedicated to active learning.

Designing a student-centered building that serves the needs of all the health sciences requires a lot of planning — including input from faculty, staff and students — as well as funding. The state of Washington has invested $70 million in the $100 million project. The university is seeking to raise an additional $30 million in gifts from the community. Opportunities are available for naming spaces in the building after a loved one.

More Engagement, Better Outcomes

Five students collaborating on project in interactive learning space

One way you know you are in an active learning classroom is by the sound. Rather than a single voice booming from behind a lectern, you’ll hear the low rumble of multiple voices, students quietly brainstorming, sharing feedback and asking questions. “The goal of active learning is to get students to learn with and from each other. You’re actually taking advantage of the fact that you’re all in a room together,” says Sara Mackenzie, MD, MPH, director of the undergraduate program in public health-global health and principal lecturer for the Department of Health Services.

Sara Mackenzie teaching
Sara Mackenzie teaching class

For example, Mackenzie uses an active-learning technique called think-pair-share, where students first reflect individually on a question she has posed. Then they share their ideas with a partner or small group, before joining a discussion with the entire class. These types of active-learning techniques help students retain information and apply concepts to situations they are likely to encounter in the workplace. Active learning also presents opportunities for students to hone their speaking skills, particularly when discussing controversial topics.

Betelehem Tessema, an undergraduate student majoring in public health-global health, felt too intimidated to raise her hand in class when she first started college. “My interactive classes taught me how to speak up in larger groups,” says Tessema. “Plus, it’s really helpful to hear how other people are interpreting what we’re reading or what we’re doing.”

The new Health Sciences Education Building is designed with active-learning activities in mind. Classrooms will feature mobile tables and chairs that swivel to make it easier for students to converse with their neighbors. Multiple projection screens and whiteboards will be positioned around larger rooms. The classrooms will be distance-learning enabled, with care given to eliminate distractions, such as noise and inadequate lighting – an important consideration for a university with students who live and work in a five-state region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho).

“Unlike a typical lecture hall with fixed, tiered seating, and maybe one screen that not everyone can see well, these classrooms are flexible, modern and designed for a multidirectional flow of information,” says Hilary Godwin, dean of the UW School of Public Health.

Teaming Up Across Disciplines

Student writing on ipad
Student displaying their digital notes

Team-based work facilitates learning among students in a class and across disciplines. An important focus of the six health sciences schools is interprofessional education (IPE): training students how to work together to improve the health of individuals and communities.

“I cannot think of a single job in public health where you just sit behind a desk and do your own work,” says Godwin. “To address the huge problems we’re facing as a society, like the opioid crisis, you have to be able to collaborate with all kinds of people. If you don’t train students how to do this now, then they won’t be prepared for success in the workforce.”

Collaboration in public health practice and in health care settings has not only become the norm but also reduces costs and enhances both the delivery and experience of care. “People across disciplines have different ways of seeing the world and bringing them together yields more innovation and advancement,” says Mackenzie. “That’s how you truly influence health outcomes.” 

In addition to providing a variety of multidisciplinary-use classrooms, the new Health Sciences Building will feature an anatomy lab and “skills lab suite” where students across different programs can participate in clinical simulations and practice working toward common goals.

The building’s IPE commons is a place where students from all the health sciences can gather between classes to engage in discussions or group work. Other informal shared spaces include a quiet study area, the collaboration lobby, a communal kitchen and library.

“It’s not just about what happens in the classroom,” Godwin says. “We want students working together in diverse teams outside of class too, but to do that they need somewhere to congregate.”

Work on the new building began this summer and a formal groundbreaking ceremony was scheduled for Aug. 27. As construction progresses, Godwin and other faculty members are brainstorming new educational possibilities. “We’re thinking about the ways we can leverage this space to develop new programs and to better meet the health needs of communities across the Pacific Northwest.”

To learn more about supporting the new building and opportunities for recognition through naming a space, please contact Megan Ingram, assistant dean for advancement at the UW School of Public Health, at mkingram@uw.edu or 206-616-7197. See a complete list of naming opportunities.