When freshmen students arrived for the opening of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus in September 1966, the university had only three buildings: Lecture Hall, Gym I, and Academic I.
UMBC had to locate all of its classes and departments in one building, Academic I, making it the learning hub of the university. In the beginning, the building included five 30-seat classrooms, four science laboratories, and one electronically equipped language laboratory. Along with classrooms, the building housed various faculty offices and academic departments, all of which had to share floor space or classrooms. Even the university’s library was located in Academic I until a dedicated library building was constructed in 1968.
Academic Building I, currently known as Biological Sciences, reflects UMBC’s nontraditional approach to student learning. Following the university’s opening, newspapers and magazines noted UMBC’s “deliberate break with tradition.” Faculty were characterized by their willingness to innovate and students were encouraged to work together with faculty on projects and research. Students could work at their own pace and learn through a method of trial and error.
This strategy mirrored the real-world practice of scientific work, unlike other universities’ classrooms where faculty closely monitored laboratory experiments to ensure that students performed experiments in an exact way. At UMBC, faculty stood back, allowing students to test out new ideas that could lead to great discoveries and new working partnerships.
As the university continued to grow, other academic buildings were constructed providing much needed space for the academic departments crowded within the Biological Sciences building. The social sciences, math, and humanities divisions left the building, while the department of Biological Sciences remained and continues to be housed there to this day.