Revealing the Future of Undergraduate Research
(From left) President Jeffrey D. Armstrong, Bill Frost, Linda Frost and Phil Bailey toured the construction site of the William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation in May 2022. They are standing at the south entrance in front of a four-story wall faced with bricks spelling out "Discere Faciendo" — Learn by Doing in Latin. Photos by Cal Poly graphic communication student Izzy Kelly.
The William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation
BY NICK WILSON
After more than four years of planning and construction, a new four-story building at Cal Poly that will dramatically enhance research and student learning opportunities for generations opens this academic year.
In May 2019, construction crews broke ground on the new William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation.
The 102,000-square-foot building is located across from the Baker Center for Science and Mathematics along North Poly View Drive.
The new facility, in its final phases of construction, features efficient design with spacious windows, views of Bishop Peak, gas and water hookups from lab ceilings, a rooftop garden, and three dedicated research centers.
The $125 million Frost Center was made possible by alumnus Bill Frost (Biochemistry, ’72) and his wife, Linda. Additional lead funding was provided by Jim and Suzanne Boswell (Boswell Agricultural Technology Center), Jack and Felicia Cashin (Expressive Technology Studios), the California State University (CSU), Cal Poly Corporation, and dozens of other donors.
The Frosts’ $110 million gift was announced in 2017, representing the largest gift ever in CSU history.
This is transformational in that the physical plant better enables undergraduate students and their faculty mentors the ability to collaborate in solving important problems facing our society.
Dean Wendt, Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics
The Frost gift includes $34.5 million for the new building, research equipment and enhancements such as the rooftop garden and atrium wood.
“This modern and well-equipped new building gives us significantly more laboratory space for research with cutting edge, state-of-the art equipment,” said Dean Wendt, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics (CSM). “This is transformational in that the physical plant better enables undergraduate students and their faculty mentors the ability to collaborate in solving important problems facing our society.”
About 71% of the building’s space is assignable, meaning available for programmatic purposes, including modern labs, computational tools, instruments and wet labs.
Three large classrooms offer seating for about 180 students, 100 students and 60 students for use across campus disciplines.
One of 13 new lab spaces built for the college in the Frost Center. Photo was taken in August 2022.
“Bill planned his gift with us very carefully, recognizing this center as a significant part of his life’s work that’s extremely meaningful to him as well as to our students, faculty and staff,” said Phil Bailey, director of the Frost Fund and CSM dean emeritus who met Bill Frost in 1970 when Bill was a student. “We are extremely grateful for his vision, philanthropy and contribution to undergraduate research and student opportunities.”
The Frost donation also covers costs associated with scholarships and stipends for students, equipment and instrumentation, hiring of more instructors and giving faculty members more time to mentor undergraduate students in research.
“Bill really liked doing research when he was here at Cal Poly, and even spent some nights in buildings here on campus, because he was so committed to his chemistry projects,” Bailey recalled. “He valued the role of education and his relationships with faculty while a student and continued to do so even after graduating and developing his own companies.”
Frost funding also established the new Plant Conservatory located on the hill overlooking Poly Canyon Village at the intersection of Village Drive and Poly Canyon Road. The conservatory had to be moved to make way for the new building.
The conservatory features multiple controlled environments to grow plants from around the world, outdoor meeting and research areas, and office spaces for technical staff and students.
The new Frost Center greatly expands resources for research among faculty who currently share facilities, some packed into tight quarters, and the proximity of the new lab spaces facilitates multidisciplinary collaboration.
“There’s going to be greater chance for cross-pollination,” said Chris Kitts, director of Cal Poly’s Center for Applications in Biotechnology. “Instead of walking across campus, I can go down the hall and have a conversation about a program or project. I’m looking forward to the possibilities of unexpected connections that form from working in the same areas.”
Physics Professor Ryan Walter said his new work area will help build, program, and troubleshoot instruments and electronics used for oceanographic research. “I'll use the space to stage field experiments,” Walter said. “I will also conduct lab experiments looking at rotating, stratified fluids, simulating what happens in the ocean.”
As a biological sciences student at Cal Poly in the 1990s, Wendt conducted in-person research off campus in marine science at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
“I had amazing teachers and mentors in the faculty at Cal Poly, but many of them didn’t have active research programs and labs 30 years ago,” Wendt said. “The student that wanted that research experience often had to find a way to piece it together back then.”
Expanded opportunities for research on campus “is the major impact of this new building,” Wendt said.
“This is bringing more physical resources to student research opportunities and the teacher-scholar model,” Wendt continued. “Bill and Linda Frost have enriched the learning opportunities for our students, and they have enabled us to maintain our competitive edge in being a premier institution that will attract the best students, staff and faculty.”