ORANGE CITY—The nursing program at Northwestern College has a new home and science is moving to the forefront in the college’s newest building, the Jack and Mary DeWitt Family Science Center.

The center will house the nursing department, which was an off-campus program located in the former Orange City Hospital downtown.

A dedication is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, with an open house to follow.

The three-story, 61,000 square-foot building cost $24.5 million. It includes classrooms, laboratories and study spaces.

The science center was made possible by the $30 million Discover Campaign that raised funds for improved natural and health science programs. Fundraising started in November 2015.

“It was a really incredible process. We were blessed to have incredible volunteer campaign leadership led by Bryan Den Hartog,” said Northwestern president Greg Christy. “It’s amazing to see how many people made the largest gift they’ve ever given to this project. We were blessed the day we broke ground in April of 2017 to have all the funds to for the building before putting a shovel in the ground. That’s pretty rare.”

Nursing professor Julie Dragstra said the new facilities will allow students and staff to have everything they need at their fingertips.

“We will have video recording capacity. With debriefing it helps to have them reflect on what they did and what went well,” Dragstra said. “In the past, while we could do three scenarios at a time, we didn’t have a central point to kind of run the simulators. Now it will work better to do more realistic scenarios because you can have multiple controls.”

The observation room is connected to three simulation rooms which can be seen through two-way mirrors.

“We are just really excited as a nursing department for all the possibilities,” Dragstra added. “It’ll just be much more conducive to learning.”

The nursing department will celebrate 10 years of nursing at the Ramaker Center at 2:30 p.m. prior to the DeWitt center dedication. Faculty and alumni are welcome.

A 960-square-foot greenhouse and vivarium is attached to the west side of the new building. Northwestern will become the second institution in Iowa to have a DNA sequencer, and one of the few with a confocal microscope.


A 960-square-foot greenhouse is attached to the west side of the building.

Chemistry professor David Arnett said the new equipment will brings Northwestern students to the cutting edge of discovery.

“They’ve discovered maybe a dozen of these viruses that have not been identified before,” he said. “One way you identify them is looking at their genetic sequence. The gene sequencer will help with that.”

“The confocal microscope is really exciting,” he continued. “Fluorescent microscopes are used to identify all kinds of structures and interactions that might happen in chemical or biological systems. It will give them a lot of information.”

“We now are one of the few undergraduate programs in the region to have genetics as an undergraduate major,” Christy said. “We have three geneticists in our faculty that are all highly accomplished teachers and researchers. We’ve always had an outstanding program. Now we have the facilities to accommodate it.”

The departments of biology, chemistry and nursing will gradually move into the family science center this fall.

Classroom lab

The DeWitt Family Science Center features ample window space in the laboratories and classrooms.

The DeWitt Family Science Center is named after Jack and Mary DeWitt, who contributed $6 million for its construction. It is the largest single gift in Northwestern’s 136-year history. In total they had given more than $10 million to the college.

Jack DeWitt died on June 22. He was 75 years old.

Mary DeWitt will speak during the dedication ceremony.

HGA, an architecture and engineering firm based in Minneapolis, and CMBA Architects of Sioux City designed the facility. OPUS Design Build was the general contractor that constructed the building.