A new multimillion dollar Health Sciences facility, complete with a simulated hospital, is inspiring the next generation of healthcare workers in North Dakota.

For years, Bismarck State College’s (BSC) Health Sciences programs have been housed in downtown Bismarck, miles from the college’s main campus. Students and faculty were rapidly outgrowing the existing space, and facing a statewide shortage of healthcare workers, BSC knew it was time for a change.

In 2014, the BSC Foundation purchased the Unisys property adjacent to campus in order to accommodate future growth of BSC programs.   

“We had cramped quarters and couldn’t expand our programs because we simply didn’t have the space for the students,” said Mari Volk, Dean of Current and Emerging Technologies. “This new building has allowed us to not only expand our current programs as far as how many students we can take, but also expand our course offerings.”

BSC’s new Health Sciences building, which opened its doors in June 2019, is equipped with the state-of-the-art-technology and equipment needed to prepare students for careers in healthcare. In addition to traditional classrooms, the building contains a 30,000-square foot hospital simulation center complete with operating rooms, a nurses’ station, laboratories, an emergency room, and an ambulance bay.

The simulated hospital allows students in all Health Sciences programs, from nursing to paramedic technology, to gain real-world experience in a controlled environment with their instructors looking on. 

 “Our goal was to set it up so that students knew what it felt like being in a hospital before they actually get into a hospital,” Volk said. “We really strive to make our experience for our students as true to life as possible. I don’t want any surprises when students leave here and go to the operating room.” 

When it came time to furnish the space, one of Volk’s top priorities was creating an environment consistent with existing buildings on campus. She enlisted the help of InterOffice Workspace Expert Kyle Hellman, who had supported BSC with previous projects.

“Just like you want your house to flow well from room to room, we want our campus to flow well from building to building,” Volk said. “Maintaining a cohesive style was really important to us.”

While the building is designed to look and feel like a real hospital, at the end of the day, the people who spend the most time there are college students—and those students had a request of their own.

“Our Health Sciences students have long days. They have labs from eight in the morning to five in the evening,” Volk said. “When we told our students we were moving programs to the new building, the first thing they said was, ‘All we want are comfortable chairs.’” 

Hellman was able to meet both of these needs with just one item of furniture: the Herman Miller Caper Multipurpose Chair. This chair appears in the nurses’ station, classrooms, and laboratories throughout the Health Sciences facility. It’s what Hellman refers to as a “workhorse” chair: visually sleek, ergodynamic, and versatile. It’s comfortable enough for sitting through all-day labs, yet durable enough to withstand constant use and repeated cleaning with hospital-grade disinfectant.

Hellman had previously used the same model while furnishing BSC’s National Energy Center of Excellence Facility and the new LEA (Library, English, and Art) Hall. Now there are close to 1,000 Caper Chairs across campus, creating a sense of unity from building to building,

“They wanted consistency, yet they wanted something that stood out,” Hellman said. “I think we achieved that goal.”

To create an environment where students could feel comfortable learning, Hellman also curated several lounge spaces throughout the building, with a variety of high- and low-top tables and chairs for doing homework or simply relaxing with a cup of coffee between classes. 

The consult rooms, where students can review footage of their simulations and receive feedback from instructors, proved to be the most difficult areas to furnish. Each room needed to include a mounted television screen and seating for at least five people. However, the rooms were located at the end of a hallway, with angled walls and tight corners that would not allow for a traditional rectangular conference table. 

Fortunately, Hellman was up to the challenge.

“At InterOffice, we are space planners first, and then designers,” Hellman said. “Finding solutions for difficult spaces—that’s what we do every day.”

The solution: Herman Miller Headway Conference Tables with a tapered-Y base, which allow multiple students and instructors to sit comfortably while still being able to view the television screen. 

“He definitely rolled with the punches and got me what I needed for that space,” Volk said. “Those tables look like they were built for the rooms. They’re just perfect.”

BSC’s new Health Sciences building was a major investment—both of time and resources—in the future of healthcare in North Dakota. But for Volk, the reactions she hears from students, faculty, and visitors is payoff enough.

“There has been a really overwhelmingly positive reaction from anyone who’s walked in the building,” Volk said. “Students are coming in droves. We’ve had students that wanted to be graphic designers decide they want to be surgical technicians, just because of this facility. It’s been incredible.”