Christie, pushing to keep Jersey kids in state, helps open NJIT center

Governor Chris Christie attends the ribbon cutting ceremony at NJIT's new Life Sciences and Engineering Center in Newark.

The New Jersey Institute of Technology cut the ribbon on its $19 million Life Sciences and Engineering Center on Thursday morning.

And Gov. Chris Christie made it perfectly clear who it is for: the students of New Jersey.

“I’m tired of having some of our best students leave this state and feel as if they need to go someplace else to get a great education,” he said.

The Life Sciences and Engineering Center is opening to combat that issue.

The center includes 10,000 square feet of wet and dry labs, 4,000 square feet of collaborative spaces, offices and a two-story presentation space that will provide opportunities for informal learning, gathering and teaching, monumental stairs with seating, a new exterior plaza and a second-floor lounge area, school officials said.

NJIT officials feel the research conducted at the center will build on NJIT’s strengths in engineering and the life sciences toward the development of new applications in clinical health care, therapeutic interventions and pharmaceutical drug development. Researchers will focus primarily on biotechnology, biosensors and medical devices, and lab-on-a-chip nanotechnology.

The center was funded by $13.5 million in state Higher Education Capital Facilities grants, including Building Our Future Bond Act, or GO Bond, funds.

Christie, speaking for local dignitaries and school officials, including NJIT President Joel Bloom, said the state is buying what it needs most: more in-state seats for students.

“(Students aren’t leaving) because we don’t have great institutions,” he said. “It’s because of the capacity those institutions could serve in a way that was appropriate.

“So, because of things that we’ve done here in partnership at NJIT, by 2020, enrollment here is estimated to expand by more than 14,000 students, a 50 percent enrollment increase from 2011 and a 75 percent enrollment increase from 2005.

“Why is that so important? Because we don’t want our best and brightest young people to leave our state and not come back, and we know that if they go to college someplace else, that’s maybe where they get the first internship. That may be where they get their first real job offer. That may be where they find someone to fall in love with, and they may never come back for those reasons.

“If they believe they have an opportunity here in their home state to get a quality education at an affordable price, which is exactly what NJIT is doing, we’re going to keep a lot more of those students and it’s going to make our state, not today or tomorrow, but a decade or more from now, a much more vibrant place than it even is today.”

NJIT is one of the more vibrant institutions in the state.

The center is part of NJIT’s $300 million campuswide capital building program, designed to transform research, teaching and campus life.

NJIT also received $86 million in state grants toward the now complete Central King Building, a hub of STEM education and research, as well as another $49.6 million for an education infrastructure project to create cloud computing and support STEM disciplines.

Last year, the state awarded NJIT an additional $20 million in GO bonds and Capital Improvement Fund bonds for integrated makerspace on NJIT’s campus.

Growth on the campus is expected to continue. In fact, it may take place at the center itself.

The new building is connected to the Otto H. York Center for Environmental Engineering and Science, and also looks to the future, leaving room for a 47,000-square-foot expansion.

Christie said more expansion is part of the plan — at NJIT and elsewhere.

“There had been no investment in higher education capital programs in this state since 1987,” he said. “Governors before me had let the time go by again and again and again and ignored the requests of leaders of our higher education institutions for the state to be a partner. It seemed to me that that was long overdue and the 25 years was much too long a time.

“The $1.3 billion that the state invested through the Building Our Future Bond Act, which was, as Joel pointed out, just part of it, because we required a match from the institutions as well to make sure they had skin in the game, is now, nearly four years later, leading to buildings like this going up and being opened all across the state: north, central and south.

“And it is a great thing for our students, and a great thing for our state’s economy to have that done.”