Collaborations between Physical Facilities and Purdue academics win-win for all

Physical Facilities’ tagline says it all — One vision, one future.

Along with serving, developing and maintaining the campus, Physical Facilities is committed to being part of the University’s academic mission by supporting faculty, staff and students in study, research and education.

When Bob McMains began as vice president for physical facilities in 2008, he expressed a goal to increase the department’s collaborations with Purdue academics. Through guest lecturing in classes, working on student and University-wide projects and providing training and facilities for hands-on learning, Physical Facilities staff members have become more directly involved with Purdue’s academic mission.

“Physical Facilities has sought out opportunities for our organization to serve as a ‘living laboratory’ that welcomes collaboration with the campus community,” McMains says. “By building relationships with academic partners, we have enhanced our ability to support teaching and learning activities and have encouraged the participation of faculty, staff and students in Physical Facilities initiatives.”

Physical Facilities is taking an active role in partnering with Purdue faculty, staff and students to attain strategic goals it shares with the entire University. Along with larger University-wide initiatives, Physical Facilities leaders welcome professors and instructors to departmental facilities for lectures and on-campus field trips.

Nancy Denton, professor of mechanical engineering technology, teams up with Physical Facilities staff members at Wade Utility Plant to give students hands-on experience in a real utility plant. From working with full-scale machinery to gaining insights into the risks of maintenance and reliability professions, students in Denton’s Machine Diagnostics course continue to benefit from working closely with experienced professional staff in a real-world setting.

“Students don’t have many opportunities at the University to interact with people in the skilled trades and therefore may not understand how much knowledge and capability is required to make a facility like Wade run well,” Denton says. “Students really benefit from field trips, but these trips come with significant challenges when they are at a distance and insurance concerns prevent students from working closely with the equipment. Collaborating with Physical Facilities means our students can do it all.”

This partnership also provides supplemental material for Denton to use throughout the semester. She uses data collected during visits to the utility plant in lectures, cites specific examples during class and has had numerous student teams conduct semester projects at Wade Utility Plant.

Beyond working with individual classes, Physical Facilities staff offer their knowledge and support to various student groups and University activities such as Boiler Green Initiative, Boiler Volunteer Network, Grand Prix, evGrandPrix and Green Week.

Physical Facilities contributes to larger, University-wide initiatives such as the Purdue Arboretum also. In collaboration with Jay Akridge, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture, and faculty members in the College of Agriculture, Physical Facilities has helped create and maintain the arboretum, which incorporates every tree, shrub and plant on campus including those in Horticulture Park.

The arboretum, established in 2008, serves as an outdoor laboratory and resource for faculty, staff, students and community members. Many of the individuals who maintain the arboretum are Buildings and Grounds employees, and departmental facilities often provide areas for classroom and laboratory workshops and programs and serve as staging areas for research projects.

Bob Joly, department head and professor of horticulture and landscape architecture, and Paul Siciliano, director of the Purdue Arboretum and associate professor of horticulture and landscape architecture, believe the project fulfills needs for the college, Physical Facilities and numerous other areas of the University and the community.

“Not only do faculty, students and staff members use the arboretum for specific research or in plant, design, entomology and even genetics courses, but also, master gardeners and middle and high school students tour the campus using the arboretum as a learning and teaching tool,” Siciliano says.

Recently Physical Facilities staff members had the opportunity to work on Purdue’s INhome solar house, which will be in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2011 beginning Friday (Sept. 23) in Washington, D.C.

According to Brad Bowen, director of energy and engineering, who helped coordinate Physical Facilities collaborations for the solar house, staff members helped construct the bio-wall frame, worked on plumbing, trained students on drywall repairs and building automation controls, and provided a crane and operator for lifts.

“In the case of the Solar Decathlon house, it has been a win-win situation for all those involved, including Physical Facilities staff members,” Bowen says. “While they were lending their professional support and expertise to the student team, they were exposed to new technologies and a really unique project.”

Physical Facilities continues to seek new opportunities to engage in and expand partnerships with Purdue academics through individual collaborations and University-wide initiatives.

“As an organization composed of professional staff representing a variety of fields, Physical Facilities has great potential to continue serving as a partner in numerous teaching and learning opportunities,” McMains says. “Collaborations between Physical Facilities staff members and academic partners have yielded significant positive results. From providing students with practical preprofessional experiences that assist them with career placement to providing a venue in which research concepts can be tested, we are proud of our organization’s enhanced contributions to the University’s mission of discovery, learning and engagement.”

For more information about Physical Facilities, visit


The Purdue Arboretum, 625 Agriculture Mall Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2010 USA

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