For more than 150 years, the future of agriculture has been cultivated at Colorado State University. With the opening of the Nutrien Agricultural Sciences Building, that future now has more space and resources to grow and thrive.
After nearly three years of construction, the new home for state-of-the-art research, learning, innovation, and collaboration opened to the public on May 3, with tours for students, faculty, and members of Colorado’s agricultural community.
Even though the building just opened its doors, environmental and natural resource economics major Sam Moccia said between the “Star Trek vibes” of its 360-degree classroom and the inclusive and welcoming nature of the facilities, the Nutrien building already feels like home.
“This college is one of the most unique and representative spaces on campus for people across all backgrounds and walks of life,” Moccia said. “Having a place on campus that represents that uniqueness and brilliance is so exciting.”
Honoring the past with an investment in the future
The construction of the College of Agricultural Sciences’ original Shepardson Building was completed in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed young men from urban areas to perform conservation work throughout the country following the Great Depression. At 43,000-square-feet, it was an impressive facility for its time. The building was named in honor of Charles N. Shepardson and his contributions to agriculture and what was then known as Colorado Agricultural College.
The $43.5 million renovations of the facility show CSU’s deep commitment to its agricultural program, one that formed the backbone of the University during those early days.
“We are so excited to officially open the Nutrien Agricultural Science Building,” said CSU President Joyce McConnell. “This facility represents Colorado State University’s investment in modern agriculture and meeting the challenges of food safety and food security, as well as our investment in the students who will be Colorado’s next agricultural leaders. I want to thank Colorado’s Capital Development Committee for the state’s support in making this project a reality and Nutrien for their invaluable support of the College of Agricultural Sciences and its students.”
In 2020, Nutrien – the world’s largest provider of crop nutrients, inputs, and services – announced it would provide CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences $1 million each year over the next 10 years. The largest donation the college had ever received at the time, the gift funds state-of-the-art research and teaching initiatives on campus, along with scholarship support to students, elevating CSU into a position of leadership in developing a diverse, highly skilled agricultural workforce.
As agriculture faces a critical moment amid the global supply chain, food insecurity, and geopolitical issues, CSU plays a vital role in the industry, said Brent Smith, Nutrien's vice president of marketing and innovation, adding that the corporation employs more than 600 CSU alumni.
“We need bold thinking to grow healthy crops and to feed a growing world in a sustainable way,” Smith said. “We need places where the next generation of agricultural advocates can grow and thrive, personally and professionally. We need a workforce with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. The Nutrien Agricultural Sciences Building is a place where we can do that, and we can also have important conversations and build positive momentum around sustainable agriculture, innovation, diversity, equity, and inclusion. And that can all happen here.”
Agriculture lives here
The physical embodiment of CSU’s land-grant mission, the Nutrien building, supports the college’s focus on intentional discovery, inclusive learning, and collaborative engagement while working to meet global challenges in food safety, food security, wellness, and economic prosperity through the sustainable use of natural resources.
In addition to centering the College of Agricultural Sciences in the heart of CSU’s campus, the building provides a critical home for agricultural research found nowhere else in the state. That connection to the land can be seen in everything from the giant map highlighting the extensive research footprint of the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station to the more subtle ceiling tiles, which mimic geometric crop patterns as seen from the sky.
Now 80,000 square feet – twice the size of the original Shepardson Building – the expanded footprint on campus allows the college to make an even bigger impact on agriculture in Colorado while enhancing the student experience in ways that weren’t possible in the previous building.
Research in real time
The state-of-the-art facilities allow students to use the latest technology to study real-world problems in real time, said James Pritchett, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences.
“Our students will be studying everything from how to grow the perfect Colorado peach to how to stimulate the microorganisms in the soil so that they can fight disease to how to understand the ways consumer preferences are changing so that we make sure not only that we feed the world, but we give them things that are nutritious, affordable and accessible,” Pritchett said. “All of those big questions, we’re going to get to answer them in these spaces.”
Spaces like the Trading and Simulation Room, where students use real-time market data and trading analysis to learn about commodities, economic returns, and risk management. The classroom provides a vital site where they can perform economic simulations, experiments, and data visualizations – everything from optimizing production and marketing decisions to valuing non-market natural resources to analyzing supply chains for agricultural and food products.
360 degrees of learning
Taking a page from the theater world, the Bernard Rollin Knowledge Well features a classroom-in-the-round setting. The concept is lauded for putting the audience – or the students, in this case – closer to the action. In fact, despite the room’s 160 student capacity, here, no student is more than five rows from the instructor.
In addition to providing better vantage points as well as acoustics, the design is also less restrictive for student learning, said Matt Camper, assistant dean for teaching practice and academic programs for the college.
Camper cited studies from Oregon State University — where its 360-degree classrooms were the inspiration for the Knowledge Well — that show in a traditional classroom, 70% of students always sit in the same spot. In a round classroom, that number is 20%.
“So, the other 80% are constantly moving, meeting new colleagues, thinking about the information in different ways,” he said, adding that simply changing up the seating arrangement is shown to establish a more connected and collaborative rapport between professors and students and results in more engaged learning.
“This room is built around student success,” added Camper, who will get the chance to try it out this summer when he teaches his insects, science, and society class. “It will be great to see what it’s really capable of.”
Growing student success
Each classroom was designed with student success in mind, including flexible set-ups that can adapt to a variety of different learning styles and technology that supports remote learning options.
The Ed Pexton Student Success Suite is home to members of the Student Success Team, which provides critical services to students — from academic advising and career services to personal and professional development. This support is available to students from the first time they visit CSU until after they graduate.
And because learning happens in and out of the classroom, the Nutrien building also features the Ag Innovation Gym. With 17 computer stations, a meeting room, and spaces for presenting and pitching ideas, this gym offers a place for students to exercise their brains, flex their innovation muscles, and stretch conversations that began in the classroom.
A major goal of the renovation was to create inviting and inclusive spaces throughout the site, to encourage students to not only fully utilize the building but to enjoy being there. In addition to classrooms and lab spaces for planned interactions, the Nutrien building also includes multiple common areas where students can spend time before and after class, sharing conversations and ideas while also building community.
The renovated facility brings the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture and Agricultural and Resource Economics departments under the same roof for the first time while also allowing programs to stretch out and give students a space to showcase their work.
Studio spaces allow Landscape Design students to not only work on designs but to showcase them with an adjoining “gallery space” where they can hang up their work for classroom critiques.
Back at the labs
Science is on full display on the building’s third floor throughout the three teaching labs, hosting soil science, plant pathology, and entomology courses. The building’s five research labs feature shared lab spaces to encourage collaboration whether researchers are focused on produce safety or soil health.
In the Mass Spectrometry Lab, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Professor Jessica Prenni and her students are working on plant problems at the molecular level.
Using the lab’s high-tech instruments – part of a partnership with lab services leader PerkinElmer, Inc – they’re researching everything from analyzing how a plant’s metabolism is affected by drought to how changing the type of fertilizer used can impact the quantity of cannabinoids, the chemical compound of hemp.
“We can give students access to these tools and really elevate their research in ways that they weren’t necessarily even thinking about before,” Prenni said. “But once they became aware of the technology and the things that we could do, suddenly it added an entirely new dimension to the skills the students are learning and the research that’s happening here.”
Across the hall, Assistant Professor Eduardo Gutierrez-Rodriguez is working in the main lab with students at the intersection of food and food safety. The new lab space at the Nutrien building provides a critical connection for fresh produce safety research between the program’s greenhouses and growing fields and the CSU Spur Denver campus’ second building Terra – opening next month – where fresh fruits and vegetables will be processed.
“Basically, we’re going to be able to connect the entire food chain all the way from the seed to the bag and test many of the different risk factors where we need to find scientific evidence to reduce those risks,” Gutierrez-Rodriguez said.
Running along the walkway leading out to the roof, a specimen lab will display samples of everything from potatoes and apples to tarantulas and hissing cockroaches. Atop the facility, a green roof designed by Horticulture & Landscape Architecture faculty member Jennifer Bousselot provides an inviting respite – as well as sustainability benefits of rainwater absorption and insulation while doubling as an outdoor “lab” to conduct research on green roofs.
Because a project of this caliber doesn’t succeed without the support of the CSU community, the College of Agricultural Sciences recognizes the partners who have invested in this new home for agriculture and in its efforts to advance agriculture.
In addition to the State of Colorado, the Colorado Legislature, and Colorado State University, there were many key partners who added their support. From Nutrien’s investment in the college’s strategic priorities to Jeff Tovar (’89) and his family’s honoring of Ed Pexton through a gift to name the Student Success Center in recognition of the former animal sciences professor who was a staunch supporter of students. Tovar and his family also partnered with fellow alumnus Stephen (’70) and Sharmaine Hillard to honor Bernie Rollin through the naming of the Knowledge Well.
A special thanks to Bank of Colorado, CattleFax, and the CSU Beef Club, who have each generously contributed to areas associated with engagement and the interaction between students, their peers, and other building visitors. Phil Steinhauer, Arbor Valley Nursery, and STIHL are tremendous industry partners for the College’s Environmental Horticulture program and, specifically, the Landscape Design and Contracting program. Their generous gifts will be recognized by names on landscape design studios, a landscape materials library, and a student collaboration space which is also designed to welcome professionals to campus to engage with students and provide constructive feedback on their work.
Through a multidisciplinary research partnership with PerkinElmer, Inc., CSU agricultural sciences students and scientists will have the opportunity to work with the lab services leader while utilizing the latest technology through access to PerkinElmer instruments in the building’s Mass Spectrometry Laboratory.