October 22, 2021

Houses in motion

SWCC puts carpentry, electrical students to work building ag center lab house

Southwestern Community College has been ambitious in expanding its Career Technical Education (CTE) programs with its latest development being a full-scale operational house being constructed in the agricultural sciences center.

SWCC Vice President of Instruction Lindsay Stoaks said this project aims to challenge a new crop of students coming in amid booming enrollment in its electrical program.

“We’ve experienced tremendous growth in our electrical technology program and so enrollment in that program has surged about 35 first-year students, so we’ve out outgrown the space in our technical center lab area, and so in an effort to provide a larger lab space for our students, we’ve moved the lab area out to the agricultural sciences center,” she said.

The construction of the house takes in the heated shop of the agricultural sciences center that has a temperature-controlled space.

“The carpentry students have been working to construct...and then the electrical students then have the opportunity to do the wiring components as well,” Stoaks said.

The house was blueprinted by the carpentry and trades building instructor Ron Utley with electrical technology instructor Jon Oswald. The finished project will be an entire residential house with furnishings, compliances and even kitchen countertops, although absent a poured concrete foundation.

“It will simulate most of the building components with the exception of the foundation,” Stoaks said.

Stoaks also said the booming enrollment revealed a need for SWCC to expand its program and get more creative with its spaces on campus.

“Early in the summer, we knew the electrical program was going to be sort of record-setting for us and so we needed to make some adjustments to our physical spaces and so we started trying to identify some of the physical spaces on campus that would be conducive for the lab component,” she said.

SWCC instructors were also looking for new ways to introduce exciting challenges that simulate a real-world housing project for its traditional students.

“I think it was really, though, our CTE instructors putting their heads together and saying, ‘What if we just went ahead and really mocked up pretty much a whole house in the lab?’” Stoaks said. “And so we tried to simulate that in the tech center before, but the ceiling was not high and was not conducive to that. We’ve got a little more flexibility in our agricultural sciences center.”

SWCC saw its enrollment data and knew that expansion would not just open new opportunity for students and instructors but was also necessary for the amount of people coming in.

“Early in the summer, we knew the electrical program was going to be sort of record-setting for us and so we needed to make some adjustments to our physical spaces and so we started trying to identify some of the physical spaces on campus that would be conducive for the lab component,” Stoaks said.

Stoaks attributes the growth of the electrical program to the SWCC’s career academies program, which has been giving high school students practical experiences with wiring homes since 2000. Secondary programs coordinator Rachel Raemaker and the admissions team have been reaching out to high schools in the area to bring awareness to SWCC’s opportunities.

The lab house also works in tandem with SWCC’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity that gives career academy students their own opportunity to build a house in Creston with a physical foundation that the lab house cannot be built on.

“For the last eight years, we’ve partnered with Habitat for Humanity to construct a residential home here in Creston,” Stoaks said. “So we have our traditional college program and that’s led by Ron Utley and then we have career academy which is comprised of high school students who are taking college classes and that’s led by Kyle Harvey. So having two different instructors and solid enrollments in both of those programs that gives us the opportunity to send some of those students over to construct the Habitat house and our traditional students construct the lab house out at the agricultural center.”

Stoaks also said these programs come with incentives like Iowa’s Last-Dollar Scholarship program that covers gaps in federal or state tuition grants for new full-time students seeking high-demand jobs.

“The trades have caught a lot of attention,” Stoaks said. “There are so many great opportunities for high-skilled, high-waged career fields and I think that’s starting to catch on. There are financial incentives like last-dollar scholar that’s readily available for students and helps relieve that financial burden if they’re interested in a career in a technical education field.”

Students receive not only their certificate from SWCC, but also OSHA’s 10-hour certification degree and skills that apply seamlessly to SWCC’s applied sciences program.

Stoaks said SWCC keeps track of their students who often move on to give back to their community and apply their skills elsewhere.

“They’re all around us,” she said. “A lot of graduates are retained here locally, regionally and some move on across the United States as well, so we do look at that graduate placement on an annual or year-by-year basis.