After more than five years of strategic planning efforts aimed at reshaping the student experience, Kirkwood Community College administrators recently achieved this goal following the completion of a new $32 million student center – a move they believe will significantly lead to increased student involvement, improve retention rates and ultimately drive academic success among the colleges’ student body.
The center, now realized following a strenuous collaborative process of nine teams and approximately 200 administrators and staff across campus functions, is multi-functional in nature, and serves as a hub for many of the long-term initiatives that the college finds critical in serving the needs of both the social and academic components of the collegiate experience.
These include enhanced study areas and meeting rooms, inclusive spaces for student cultural groups, an updated art gallery, as well as additional services and resources such as academic advising and financial aid, counseling services offered by the Dean of Students Office and a Global Learning department for student international study and travel abroad.
“For the first time, we asked students what they wanted and not just assumed,” said Kirkwood President Dr. Lori Sundberg. “The college wanted to engage students more fully … and by designing this building we are adhering to them and want them to succeed.”
During the planning phase for the center, the college employed four main goals, according to Jon Buse, Vice-President of Student Services. These include, “providing great service, convenient navigation and way-finding, support for diverse learners and involvement and engagement for all students.”
“Education should involve more than earning a credential,” Buse said. “It’s about the student experience … [O]ne of the beautiful things about the college experience is that we each get to define what that means to us. Likewise, it is critical for the college experience to be celebrated, showcased and shared for that experience to truly come to life, and that’s why a student center is so important.”
The college, which is located in the heart of the eastern Iowa corridor plays a very critical role in the “economic well-being” of everyone in its seven-county area proximate to the campus which is home to some of college’s regional centers such as those in Jones, Johnson and Washington counties, among others, Sundberg said. “The new student center is impactful and has been worth the wait … it is about the future and marks the opening of a new dawn.”
Following the approval of a $60 million dollar bond measure by voters for projects dedicated to improvements on campus, the college was able to fulfill their long-term goal of building the 113,00 square foot facility, while also making renovations to the campus recreation center and the automotive and veterinarian technical centers. “When I spent time here as a K-12 superintendent, I always wondered where the center of attention was on campus,” said Alan Jensen, Trustee and Kirkwood Board Member. “I think it was greatly needed, and know that students and staff will put it to good use.”
Moreover, the center was built with the vision of realizing a need for inclusiveness in higher education in the words of former Governor Samuel Kirkwood, an early founder for whom the college is named, as well as Bud Jensen, the college’s first board president, Buse said. Collectively these pioneers carried a strong-held belief that all students should have access to a well-rounded education and are welcome to Kirkwood. They posited that learning must occur both in and outside the classroom while bridging both social and academic aspects.
“In Iowa Hall we have sought to create a sense of belonging for all students,” Buse said. “It’s a place for students to be welcomed, served, connected and engaged.”
The student center located in Iowa Hall was designed by OPN Architects, a local architectural firm in Cedar Rapids, and Workshop Architects of Milwaukee that specifically works with colleges to design student spaces.
Student service locations
Career Services: Third floor
Financial Aid: Third floor
Admissions: Third floor
Registrar: Third floor
Veteran’s Affairs: Second floor
College Resource Officer: 3034C
Dean of Students: Third floor
Counseling: Room 3034
Student Food Pantry: Room 3038
Global Learning: Room 2008