Weaver Hall Renovation

The technology is astounding.

Augmented reality that allows students to view a virtual 3-D model of the circulatory system –and walk around the room to see it from different angles.

High-fidelity human patient simulators that can be programmed by professors to mimic a heart attack, birth a baby – even speak.

An anatomical lab where seniors bound for medical school work in teams to examine cadavers and see first-hand the inner workings of the human body –  a full year before most of their peers across the nation.

One of the few plastination labs in the United States in an undergraduate program, where actual body parts such as heart, brain or lungs can be permanently preserved – creating specimens that can be held, studied and exhibited.

This is the future of higher education – and it’s here now in University of Mobile’s new $4.6 million healthcare and science education center in William K. Weaver Hall. 

Living Laboratories

It’s “the most advanced patient-care educational environment in the South,” said UM President Timothy L. Smith, PhD, PhD, to the dignitaries, supporters, community leaders and members of the UM family gathered on the steps of Weaver Hall for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 30.

“This development will forever change the way we educate at University of Mobile,” he added.

Two entire floors of William K. Weaver Hall were gutted and redesigned o create “living laboratories” that support a new approach to teaching college courses that UM calls “Prac-ademics™.” 

“Prac-ademics is the educational process of teaching theory or the academics in the classrooms, while providing practice environments to enhance the learning and retention of content taught in the classroom,” Smith said. 

It’s hands-on learning that requires students to use all of their senses, which helps them better retain and apply what they learn. It prepares students to step into their careers with confidence, having both theoretical and practical experience, and to approach various healthcare certification exams with confidence.

And while UM has an excellent track record for graduates’ acceptance into medical schools, the university has set its sights on expanding that reputation. With experience in the anatomical and plastination lab, UM students not only will be uniquely prepared for the MCAT exam required for entrance into medical schools, but also, once there, to stand out from their peers.

Smith said there’s no reason undergraduate students should have to wait for medical school or that first job to gain experience and develop competence.

“Why wait?” he said. “I believe you provide educational experiences early in order to provide for more effective learning, both now and later in graduate school and medical school.”

UM biology/pre-health major Noemi Mallet agrees.

“It’s exciting to be able to experience something now that most people don’t get to do until medical school,” said Mallet, a senior from Canada and member of the women’s soccer team.

Standing in the anatomical lab as students nearby drape a cadaver and prepare for the day’s lesson, Mallet said, “It’s great to be able to learn by doing and not just seeing in pictures the organs and systems of the human body. You can actually see problems from one patient to another, how one has a healthy heart and another doesn’t. It gives us an advantage for getting into medical school and, once there, being more comfortable in the situation.”

The Renovation

The renovation encompasses the College of Health Professions and the College of Arts & Sciences – Department of Natural Sciences. Included in the College of Health Professions is the Center for Excellence in Healthcare Practice, School of Nursing, School of Health and Sports Science, and School of Allied Health. 

Classrooms and laboratories mirror the hospital rooms, operating rooms, intensive care units, athletic training/kinesiology treatment centers, science and healthcare settings that graduates will step into as they enter the workforce.

Large windows line the central hallways, providing views into classrooms and labs where students in red scrubs attend to high-fidelity human patient simulators that mimic everything from medical emergencies such as a heart attack to labor and delivery. New technology that enhances learning includes augmented reality, where students can view a virtual 3-D model of the circulatory system and walk around the room to see it from different angles, or use a HoloLens to view various stages of pregnancy and elevate a 3-D model of the birthing process above a physical model, while students walk around and view it from different positions.

The renovation added an operating room, emergency room, anatomical and plastination lab, health assessment lab, research lab, high-fidelity human patient simulation labs and debriefing rooms, health and sports science labs and classrooms, and high-tech labs for the study of biology, microbiology, anatomy, physiology and organic chemistry.

Both floors include student commons areas, faculty and staff offices, and conference rooms.

Weaver Auditorium was renovated as well. The sloping floor was leveled and stationary seating removed, creating a more versatile space to accommodate a variety of seating and table arrangements while still retaining the stage.

The One Foundation

While the facility is a “game-changer” for the university, Smith said its purpose goes beyond providing a “wow factor.”

“The purpose is to glorify Christ through the development of an educational environment that will place our graduates in a position that will bring Him glory, as they leave this institution to fulfill their Great Commission calling through service to our community in hospitals and other environments,” Smith said.

That focus is obvious the moment you enter the lobby of Weaver Hall. The university’s core values – Christ-Centered, Academically-Focused, Student-Devoted, Distinctively-Driven – 

are positioned on the walls of the brightly-lit area that also serves as a hub for the school’s Campus Concierge information/service center.

Before stepping into the new, enlarged elevator and ascending to the second and third floors, you walk past Scripture mounted on the walls – verses that are foundational to the university’s mission.

The Fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING OF WISDOM. – Proverbs 9:10

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the RENEWAL OF YOUR MIND. – Romans 12:2

The GOD said, let us make man IN OUR IMAGE, after our likeness. – Genesis 1:26

In the first floor’s north hallway is a timeline showing the school’s growth, from the 1960s to the present, that includes photographs of such beloved professors as Dr. Kenneth Bergdolt and Dr. Rosemary Adams.

The school’s mission statement is prominent in the hallway, along with a painting of founding president Dr. William K. Weaver Jr. and a photograph of the first Mobile College Board of Trustees. The phrase “Know and Be Known,” a key phrase in the university’s recent rebranding, is posted opposite the Enrollment Services suite.

Into the Future

As the university prepares students to pursue their professional calling in the areas of healthcare and science, the institution is also preparing for many more who will be drawn to the combination of an exceptional academic program with a Christ-centered purpose.

Smith, who began his career as a certified registered nurse anesthetist before moving into higher education administration, said the university will continue to add academic programs and is beginning a feasibility study for a nurse anesthesia program.

As the program grows, one thing is certain.

“Patients will be cared for with excellence and compassion in the days ahead because of the advanced level of academic preparation that was afforded to their caregiver here at University of Mobile,” Smith added.

‘A Testament of the Lord’s Faithfulness’

A.J. Nipper is a junior majoring in biology/pre-med. He represents the university as an Ambassador and serves on the Student Government Association intramural and Ram Rush committees. Following are his remarks to university supporters, Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and students.

As I was putting some thoughts together earlier today, my mind was brought to Scripture. One of the greatest and most important literary devices used throughout Scripture is the use of repetition. Repetition allows the author to point to a specific word or phrase and say, “Here it is.  Here is the most important thing. Please hear this.”  

So, with that being said, if you get nothing else from what I say today, please hear this. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you to Dr. Smith for your vision and your commitment to this university. Thank you all for your generous contributions. Thank you for your constant support. Thank you for your genuine love and fervent prayer for this university. 

 For me, this university has been nothing but a testament of the Lord’s faithfulness to me over the last two and a half years of my time here. Three years ago, I never would have believed you if you would’ve told me I would be attending a small Christian university, in Mobile, Alabama. And I sure wouldn’t have believed you if you told me I would be speaking at a ribbon-cutting ceremony as an Ambassador for that school. But God is good.  

Coming here from Daytona Beach, Florida, I planned on double majoring in theology and biology with the sense that the Lord was calling me into full-time ministry. I still believe that the Lord can and will use me in ministry, just not in the role that I originally anticipated. Over the last year and a half, the Lord has been faithful to show me the heart He has placed in me for practicing medicine.  

He has continually opened doors to further my educational pursuits in the healthcare field, and grow my love for the people around me through this school. He has given me professors that repeatedly challenge me academically as well as practically to live out the calling God has on my life. And for that, I will be forever grateful. 

This renovation we are excited to reveal today will be used to further confirm that calling on my life and the lives of many of my peers. The newly installed labs will provide us with opportunities that we may never have had at another institution. In my gross anatomy class, we are working with cadavers, exploring regions of the body that most undergrad students will only ever see in a textbook. Through plastination, a new and innovative technology, we will be able to preserve actual organs from the lab to be studied and identified. Through our state-of-the-art operating room and nursing facility, students will have the opportunities to see moment-by-moment simulations of real events that will be seen in real hospitals.  

This facility provides us with strong advantages now so that we may have brighter futures ahead.  And that means the world to us.  

This university continually strives to provide the best learning experiences to best prepare us to fulfill the call God has on our lives. And for that, we cannot show our gratitude enough. To sum up my attitude toward the renovation, I quote a close friend and mentor who said, “I love being a part of an organization that looks for opportunities to improve, thrives on innovation, and desires to be a leader in education the world needs for the future.” 

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean uses her passion for storytelling and "playing with words" to share the stories of people, place and purpose that make the University of Mobile unique. As associate vice president for university communications, she manages media relations, edits the TorchLight alumni magazine, and oversees university communications. A former award-winning journalist, she is a two-time recipient of the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing. Kathy and her husband, Chuck, live with three extremely loud miniature schnauzers.