Sim Man doesn’t have a lot of personality.
But he does have a heartbeat, albeit fake.
He lies around most days in a learning laboratory in North Idaho College’s new Health and Sciences Building and is just one example of the technological advances that are making learning more engaging and convenient.
Sim Man gives nursing students an opportunity to hear what heart murmurs or lung ailments sound like, explained Marian Underhill, a nursing instructor who’s also new to campus. And he responds to questions about his well-being.
“He’s as close as you can get to real life,” Underhill said.
But Sim Man won’t be leaving his state-of-the-art hospital bed today to give any speeches at the grand opening celebration of the Health and Sciences Building.
He’ll leave that to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and other dignitaries.
The college broke ground on the building in April of last year. The $11.9 million building was funded through a $68.5 million statewide bonding program that the Legislature passed in the final days of its 2003 session.
A community fundraising campaign raised another $2 million to pay for the technology, hospital beds and 75 new microscopes.
Students in Rhena Cooper’s microbiology laboratory said they appreciate the new Olympus microscopes.
“The old ones were really bad and half were falling apart,” said Kellie Waterhouse, a third-year NIC student who was preparing and examining slides of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in a lab Wednesday. Cooper said some of the old microscopes were 30 years old.
Waterhouse pointed out other improvements to the laboratories, such as the chemical shower, fire blankets and fume hoods that make chemistry lab safer.
“It’s so much nicer than anything else we ever had,” she said.
Cooper’s microscope is attached to a projector, which sends the image from her slide to a large screen, easily seen by all the students in the classroom so they know what they should be looking for on their own slides.
The audio-visual tools in the classrooms are the pride and joy of Andy Finney, the college’s learning resources coordinator. On Wednesday, he was in the learning laboratory hooking up a camera that sends live video to neighboring classrooms or just about anywhere for demonstrations.
Finney said he arrived at the building about 6 a.m. the first day of classes and stayed in the lobby, near the auditoriums, all day, in case anything went wrong.
“I was such a nervous Nellie,” he said. The biggest problem he encountered that day was an image that went off-screen about six inches during a lecture. Finney said he borrowed a student’s $150 biology textbook, stood on a desk and knocked the projector back in place.
Other glitches have since arisen, but overall Finney is downright giddy about the building and its potential: “This is really remarkable.”
Aside from the technological improvements, one of the biggest benefits of the new building is simply more space. Campuswide, classroom space has increased 25 percent.
The nursing program still has a waiting list, hovering around 70 students, said Lita Burns, director of health and nursing professions. But she was able to increase the new nursing students by 10 this year.
“I’m trying to respond to the nursing shortage demand, which is not as prevalent in North Idaho and the Northwest, but prevalent nationwide,” she said. “All our students are getting hired. We’re not saturating the market.”
Burns called the former nursing classroom building a beehive, but some students called their classroom there “the dungeon.”
“There was this brown carpet, a room with no windows, and the pipes would clang really loudly,” said second-year nursing student Suzanne Hugeunin. “The whole class would jump during class. It would randomly do that.
“Our equipment was old. Things wouldn’t work. We couldn’t see the instructors well.”
The new auditorium classrooms are quiet, and every student has an unimpeded view of the instructor and screen, she said. “It’s a lot less distracting.”
In addition to adding more nurses to the workforce, the pharmacy technician program also expects to be graduating more students as a result of the new, improved space. And Burns’ department plans to add a radiography technology program next year.
So by all accounts, the staff and students have a lot to celebrate.
“I plan to teach here for 30 years,” Cooper said. “And I’ll be happy in these labs for 30 years.”