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North Hills Monthly

New McIlroy Center Offers Endless Opportunities for Shady Side Academy Students and Faculty

Nov 30, 2018 11:37AM ● By Kathleen Ganster

The McIlroy Center’s Keefe Ellis Commons offers a space for students to study and hang out between classes.

The new McIlroy Center for Science and Innovation at Shady Side Academy is just one more example of the school’s dedication to excellence for its students and faculty. 

Located on the 130-acre Senior School campus in Fox Chapel and serving approximately 440 students in grades 9-12, the new 22,000 sq. ft. building is home to the school’s science department. The McIlroy Center features 10 flexible classroom/lab spaces with state-of-the-art, college-level lab equipment including a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GC-MS), nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machine, materials testing bench, fluorescence microscope, scanning electron microscope, real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine, gel documentation system, and  -80 degrees Celsius lab freezer. 

“Not many high school labs have this type of equipment. When our kids go on to study science in college, this is the kind of equipment and methodology they’ll be using,” said Science Department Chair Dr. Joe Martens. 

But it isn’t just the equipment inside that makes the McIlroy Center stand out. The brick-and-glass building incorporates sustainable features that reduce environmental impact while creating teaching opportunities, such as a rain garden that collects storm runoff and rooftop solar panels that supply electricity to the grid. The new facility also includes increased spaces for research, collaboration and independent study; new faculty offices, and an outdoor amphitheater for classes, lectures and events. 

The flexible classroom/lab spaces allow for easy transition between lab and classroom sessions, something particularly attractive to faculty. 

“The lab/classroom combo was constructed with our style of pedagogy in mind, which simply put, is experiential learning: experiment, analysis, and reflection. Students build their understanding of concepts based on the analysis and reflection of experiments,” Martens said. 

For the students, the McIlroy Center brings a new excitement to their studies.  

“The new science building has really changed the way that I approach science. I believe it has reinvigorated the passion for science within our student body,” said Eric Han, a senior at Shady Side Academy, adding that the new design of the classroom and lab spaces brings classroom lessons to life.

“Now that our classes are combined with our lab, it easily allows for quick transitions between a classroom setting into a laboratory setting,” he continued. “I am a hands-on learner. After learning a concept in a classroom setting, we can immediately demonstrate that concept in a lab, and that helps me visualize the idea that is being taught.”

John Landreth, Han’s organic chemistry teacher, agreed.

“I am extremely happy to have the ability to grab chemicals to do a demonstration in response to a student question without walking to another part of the building. It gives us the ability to be more responsive to the questions from the kids and to tailor our questions and answers individually,” he said. 

The McIlroy Center also lends itself to independent student research. With a special projects room adjacent to the faculty office suite and separated by a glass partition, students can have supervised access to research space during the day with storage for long-term projects. In this new space, Han said he has found increased opportunities for his own research. 

“Sometimes a teacher was not available, and you could not go into the lab to do work. But now, there is a small lab attached to the department office, which any teacher is able to watch over from their own seat in the office,” he said.

The new facility and equipment have not only energized the students.

“The laboratory has always been the best teaching tool, and it is available to us 24/7. We no longer have to just describe what scientists are doing; our labs are equipped with lots of current technology and our students get to work with it,” said chemistry faculty member Tom Rossi.

“I really appreciate the message that the new building sends: that Shady Side Academy is committed to a world-class STEM education,” added physics teacher, Dr. Kelly VandenBosch. “The equipment in the building—real research equipment—is allowing us to be really creative about how we approach the science curriculum and opening the doors for fascinating independent research by students.”

The $14 million McIlroy Center for Science and Innovation is part of a comprehensive, multiyear plan to upgrade the science and technology facilities across Shady Side Academy’s campuses. The Middle School’s three science labs were renovated in 2014 and 2016, and the Junior School’s science lab was renovated and expanded in 2015. With the opening of the McIlroy Center, the old science spaces at the Senior School are being renovated into a new technology and design hub that will include computer labs, a robotics arena and a fabrication lab.

Learn more about Shady Side Academy Senior School and the McIlroy Center at an Admissions Open House on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m. RSVP online at or call 412-968-3180 to schedule a personal tour anytime.