January 9, 2019, marked the Topping Out Ceremony for NorthWest Arkansas Community College’s (NWACC) Integrated Design Lab (IDL) on the Bentonville campus. The ceremony celebrated the last beam placed on the structure, a milestone for the college.
Since its ground breaking, progress continues to be made on the new 18,589 square foot facility. Over 435 yards of cement have been poured, the domestic utilities have been roughed into the building, brick installation is being prepared, and the roof installation is scheduled to be completed in February.
The IDL will provide needed classroom and lab space for key academic programs in visual arts and construction technology - Both represent significantly growing career fields in Northwest Arkansas. The structure will also house space that supports general fine arts, sculpture, ceramics and a Fab Lab with 3D printers, a CNC router, laser cutting equipment, and other tools.
Programming will promote entrepreneurship and innovation. The following tagline expresses the concept: Integrated Design at NWACC: Where inspiration and craft become career realities.
Interim Coordinator Jerod Bradshaw said the new building could bring a fine arts student's idea to life while also giving him or her the tools to build the project.
"For our construction technology students, those are going in to construction management so they're going to be working for all the large contractors in this area putting together other buildings like this for universities or for hospitals," said Bradshaw.
He further explained that the building will provide cross-training for students and faculty, a more holistic form of education.
The college plans to open the facility to students for the 2019 Fall semester.
Dena is a construction project manager at NWACC. Part of her job entails tracking details associated with the IDL’s construction. The building will house the same degree program she just completed. She took an indirect path to her career calling, but it’s been confirmed for her that construction management is where she belongs.
She worked as a bank teller, at the Walmart corporate office, and in the public schools before joining NWACC in the human resources department. She says she worked herself out of a job streamlining personnel files, employment memorandum, and other documents. Through a series of events, she began working in the office of the director of facilities planning and construction and found her calling in construction management.
Within a few months of her transfer to the new area, conversations began about a construction technology program. She says the dean of workforce development, Keith Peterson, began talking about the need for such a program based on information from contractors.
She already had begun taking business classes at NWACC, and she knew the new program seemed like a good fit for her role. “This program will help me in my day-to-day job,” she recalls thinking. She signed up for classes and never looked back.
She’s had the opportunity to learn from Jim Lay, who’s both a boss and a mentor. She was able to blend all that she learned from the mentorship and the day-to-day workings within her area with the knowledge gained through the formal study in construction technology. It’s been a great learning opportunity for her, and she’s soaked it up.
When she looks at a set of drawings now, she’s gained confidence and speed in evaluating the information.
In her first classes in construction technology, there were few other women, but she’s seen the number of female participants grow as time has gone on. She’s definitely a champion for the construction career field in general, and she has a message for other women. “You can do it,” she says. “There is no stopping you.”
Aleah Justice is equally enthusiastic about the opportunities the new IDL provides.
Her emphasis is on the opportunity for additional education in visual arts that the new structure will provide. She had studied previously at the Memphis College of Art, but after a break from academics, she was looking at returning to northwest Arkansas and she considered the community college. “It was something that was close to home and affordable and I had heard really good things about the teachers,” she says.
In general, she praises NWACC’s faculty. “They’re really concentrated on their students,” she says. “They have a lot of passion about what they do.”
It’s also evident to her that faculty are genuinely interested in their students. “They care about their students, which I know is important for a lot of students,” she says. “It was important for me as a student.”
Aleah sees benefits to visual arts when the IDL is up and running and there are more opportunities for hands-on study in art. “I think it’s going to add something to the community.”