Skip to main content
May 7, 2024

Lab Grand Opening Celebration wrap up

Written By: Claire Massey

The Grand Opening Celebration for the John C. Kuetemeyer Instructional Laboratories has been the culmination of multiple years of hard work, fundraising and construction to transform the summer lab space in the basement of Engineering Hall into a modern laboratory. Dean Ian Robertson spoke at the opening celebration on the evening of April 19th, “our college can boast of a long and proud legacy of leadership in chemical engineering research and education. But today—thanks to the unwavering vision, determination and financial support of many people—that legacy will live on in a space that is not only aesthetically stunning, open and welcoming … but importantly, also provides the modern resources our students need today and the flexibility to evolve and adapt in the future.”

Greg Kuetemeyer and family.
Gregg Kuetemeyer with family at the Grand Opening Celebration.

Before construction, the lab hadn’t changed much in the past 50 years. But in May of 2019, a vision was born to upgrade and expand the instructional lab space. Throughout 2019 and 2020, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE) fundraised for the project. Then, in the fall of 2021 the plans were finalized and approved and CBE alumni Beth Berenschot-Keonings (ChE’81) kicked off the construction by swinging a sledgehammer at the brick breaking ceremony in October of 2022.

Howard Curler Distinguished Professor and R. Byron Bird Department Chair, Eric Shusta was able to share some personal remarks about the lab space. “I can vouch that back in the 1990’s when I was a student, things were very similar to when this project started in in the Fall of 2022. In fact, I had no idea that there were windows in that laboratory!” said Shusta. “Now as you look at these spaces, you have ample natural light in each lab, and the large glass walls allow everyone to see what exciting work chemical and biological engineers are up to.”

The guests

Alumni, donors, faculty and staff were in attendance to celebrate the completion of the lab and see the result of their support. All attendees were invited to pour some of their “badger blood, sweat and tears”-a mixture of water and red food coloring-into a flask which then went into the distillation column as the initial charge. Professor Emerita Regina Murphy had the honor of adding the first charge and officially opening the John C. Kuetemeyer Instructional Laboratories. During her tenure as Chair, Murphy was a major influence in getting this project off the ground. She also showed her unwavering dedication and continues to work on the project after retirement.

Beth and Matt Koenings add their “badger blood” for the initial charge.
Professor Emerita Regina Murphy adds the first charge to the distillation column.

Many alumni and friends invested in the lab renovations. The naming donors for this project include:

Attendees admire the donor wall.
  • John C. Kuetemeyer
  • Beth and Matt Koenings
  • Mike and Ginny Conway
  • The family of Charlie Hill and the Dorothy L. Smith Trust
  • Margaret Blackwood Allen and Peter Allen
  • The Yttre Family
  • The Gromacki Family
  • Harry and Bonnie Spiegelberg
  • Franz and Karen Altpeter
  • The Jensen Family
  • Donald Baldovin
  • Judy Rolke
  • Jerry and Louise Battist
  • Tom Nieman and FoxTown Brewing

Most of the guests were CBE students at one point and have fond memories of their time here. “What has been notable as I have had conversations with numerous alumni in my role as chair, is that almost everyone talks about their experiences in the instructional laboratories,” says Shusta. “While people have referred to entering the old laboratory spaces as entering a ‘medieval dungeon’, nearly all alumni that I speak with note the transformational educational experiences they received as part of CBE laboratory courses. I predict that with these new laboratories, we will hear similar stories for decades to come about how summer lab and its inherent open-ended problem solving have helped pave the road for career success.”

A legacy of student education
Professor Thatcher Root discusses the lab.

All of the faculty and staff in CBE are excited about the expanded opportunities and learning the new lab will provide students. Even during its construction, the lab has been providing unique learning experiences for students. As the lab was going through the final preparation, some students were able to step into the new space. A handful of students worked on drafting a new fermentation course manual for the upcoming summer lab with Karen and William Monfre Professor and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor Brian Pfleger. Others worked with faculty associate Eric Codner on constructing the equipment. A few additional classes were also held in the new space.

“With both its expanded size and capabilities it will provide unprecedented opportunities for our current and future chemical engineering students to put their education into practice,” said Dean Robertson at the re-opening celebration. “For me, this lab checks all of the boxes: collaborative, real-world, hands-on experience is invaluable in our chemical engineers’ preparation. It is among my top priorities for our students’ learning, and it is an element of what sets Badger engineers apart in recruiters’ eyes.”

As recent news of a new engineering building has been announced, Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin had some additional remarks. “It’s equally important that we reimagine existing spaces in ways that can dramatically change teaching and learning and help us to accommodate extraordinary demand from students.”

We are so thrilled with the new instructional labs and excited for students to have their first summer lab experience this year. Thank you all who were involved in this project, big or small. We are very grateful to our community who came together to bring this vision to life.