CORALVILLE — Close your eyes and imagine high school academies, college courses, university research, teacher training, special-education support, innovative laboratory access and programs focused in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — all housed in one place.
Now open your eyes.
Behold the new Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa — the last of four regional centers the Cedar Rapids-based community college set out to develop years ago in hopes of enabling increased cooperation between Kirkwood, area school districts and nearby businesses.
A primary mission of all four centers is to offer high school students the opportunity to explore career options while earning both high school and college credit — at no cost. The students are bused to the centers from their respective schools — or they can drive — with the hope of jump-starting an applied science diploma, degree or technical certificate at Kirkwood, or receiving “fully-transferrable credit” to a four-year university.
The first center in Jones County opened in 2009, followed by the Linn County Regional Center in 2013, and then the Washington County Regional Center last year.
The final addition — a 101,000-square-foot, five-story, largely glass facility at 2301 Oakdale Blvd. in Coralville — is set to debut Monday, syncing with the start of many local school districts and the UI fall semester.
But this final installment looks a bit different from the others.
“This center is a partnership that is unique,” said center director Jon Weih, citing the UI involvement.
In addition to the center’s focus on preparing high schoolers for life after graduation with specialized training in areas such as agriculture science, criminal justice and STEM innovation, UI will have a presence on the campus. Its colleges of education, business, and engineering, for example, will conduct research, education and teacher development on site, Weih said.
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Grant Wood Area Education Association, one of nine Iowa area education agencies established by law to “provide equity in educational programs across the state,” will house staff in the new center, along with one of six regional STEM hubs created through the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.
“We are excited about the unique partnership this is,” Weih said.
Grant Wood AEA serves more than 70,000 students and about 5,800 teachers and staff in 32 K-12 public school districts and 22 non-public schools, preschools and day care centers in Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn, and Washington counties. The Grant Wood staff — housed in three centers, including two in Cedar Rapids and one in Coralville — provides, among other things, special education support, technology assistance, instructional support and professional development, and help with school planning, communication and equity issues.
Its Coralville location houses 125 employees, and that space was getting tight, said Joe Crozier, chief administrator of Grant Wood AEA. Relocating those employees to the new regional center will give them access to redesigned space, conference rooms, observation areas, and better technology.
And then there’s the collaboration opportunities.
“That was a prime motivation for us to move in there,” Crozier said. “It’s the only building in the country we know of that has an intermediate service agency, a community college, and a regents university operating out of the same building.”
As far as the UI involvement goes, it might hold a few college courses in the new regional center’s technology-equipped classrooms. But much of its work there will revolve around research and instruction development for the high school academies.
About 350 high school students are enrolled to take courses at the new regional center this fall — mostly juniors and seniors. The building also will host some college classes and non-traditional Kirkwood students during off-hours, but those enrollment figures aren’t yet available.
“Career academy offerings” available to the high school constituent include advanced manufacturing and engineering technology, architecture, business, computer software development, emergency medical services, hotel management, human services, information technology, pharmacy technician and patient care — including First Aid and nurse-aid certification.
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“With what we are offering with our academy courses, it’s just going to be a dynamite connection,” Kirkwood Community College President Mick Starcevich said.
He said the programming will give students a cost-free jump on their college education, provide them certification for employment after graduation or open up internship possibilities.
“There’s going to be tremendous opportunities for our students to get not only the education part, but the hands-on part,” Starcevich said.
Through its other regional centers, Kirkwood this year served 4,924 high school students, saving an estimated $4.6 million in what they would have paid as community college students. The savings double when comparing costs at Iowa’s three regent universities, according to Starcevich.