Innovation is key at new workforce centers

By Ellie Ashford

New workforce education/STEM facilities at community colleges incorporate innovative features. 

The newly renovated Applied Technology and Trades Center at Aims Community College in Colorado integrates learning into the actual walls of the building. The architects created a cut-away design so wiring, plumbing and mechanical systems inside the walls are visible behind glass. Part of the ceiling is open, too. Signage throughout the building explains the various components.

“We were looking to provide a space that acted as an instructional tool itself,” said Aims President Leah Bornstein, who also serves on the American Association of Community Colleges’ board of directors.

An array of solar panels on top of a pergola fabricated by students in the welding program will provide energy for the building. It will also serve as a teaching tool, as students learn how to dismantle and reinstall the panels.

That design makes the learning inside the building more real for students in Aims’ construction management program. The building also houses programs in engineering technology with computer-aided drafting and 3D printing, industrial technology, oil and gas technology and welding technology.

Aims is among a growing number of community colleges across the country that are building or revamping workforce education and STEM centers to ensure students have access to the technology and tools used in their fields of study.

A partnership from the start

At Aims, students were involved with the project from the start. The design and contracting firms brought guest speakers to classes, hosted tours of the construction site and previewed the project for students throughout the design and construction process.

The new building was needed to house training equipment such as process control trainers, programmable log controllers and a seven-station mechatronics system that were funded by a $670,300 grant from the U.S. Labor Department under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program (TAACCCT).

The college worked with advisory committees for each academic program to consider current and future technology needs as the building was designed, Bornstein said. The college also consulted with local employers, such as Aqua-Hot, which produces heaters for recreational vehicles, and Woodward Inc., a manufacturer of aerospace components.

Most of the students expected to take classes in the new center are incumbent workers who are upskilling, but it’s also expected to serve recent high school graduates and current high school students in dual-enrollment programs.

Bornstein calls the project “a fabulous example of how a building can be utilized to meet the need of the programs.”

“The Applied Technology and Trades Center brings tremendous opportunity to northern Colorado for our students, the community and our business partners,” she said. This new state-of-the-art center “will help build the future for students and business partners looking to fill jobs that are in high demand.”

There’s more to the story! Read the full CC Daily article to find out what other community colleges are doing to prepare students for the changing workforce.

Ellie Ashford

Ellie is associate editor of AACC’s Community College Daily.