Beginning at the end of the fall semester, significant changes will begin across the main campus that will continue for two years, as Kirkwood Community College works to complete the construction of a new Student Life center as well as changes to existing offices and operations around campus.
The changes within this expansive renovation project began almost two years ago, when meetings were held with students, faculty, staff, architects and designers on how to spend the $60 million bond fund to improve the experience for everyone at Kirkwood, according to Jon Buse, vice president of Student Services at Kirkwood.
“The way that the plan came to fruition was based around the expectations of students and staff,” said Buse. “The vision that this came out of came out of a two-year study from the institution called “The Foundations of Excellence” that led to an action plan that was geared toward student success.”
Models of the three-level building were then created for students to be able to move offices and spaces around to show where they would like to see things go.
“For example, students would show us where they wanted to see The Café, Advising and Enrollment offices go. These were really heady decisions that students helped with a lot,” said Buse.
The renovation plan was more than just an exercise in planning and soliciting feedback.
According to Buse, “A number of people had this vision that we could actually create this community here and in part give students a place to call theirs and also give the college a place to exhibit and celebrate the work of the students.”
As part of that vision, Buse and his team asked themselves to honestly answer what the big challenges were for students.
Buse said he found that Kirkwood “has a problem with wayfinding and communication and needs to cultivate more opportunities to expand on shared learning experiences like the Sustainability Club…we are also very diverse from a student perspective here and we don’t effectively acknowledge that diversity or effectively support it.”
These findings led the process of designing a space that would achieve the educational and student traffic management goals but the biggest emphasis was on bringing together the many groups that call Kirkwood home.
“Perhaps the most powerful thing that impacts student success is the power of peer interaction. Research has continually shown that perhaps the most powerful thing that impacts student success is the interaction of diverse peer groups. Naturally, we are a very diverse place, there is ethnic, age, parenting, veterans, religious, academic, social and political diversity. If we think about the broad definition of diversity, what we see from a design standpoint of this building is how to bring those groups together in a meaningful way,” Buse explained.
According to Buse, the philosophy that is at the heart of these changes is rooted in a speech in 1967 by Kirkwood’s founding board chair Bud Jensen, delivered to the Iowa legislature, who said, “These are the hands of a bricklayer. They are calloused and hard but they have given both me and my family an excellent living. Would you deny these hands or the hands of my children and other children throughout the state the right or opportunity to read a good book? To caress a book of poetry or to learn something about higher math?”
Buse continued, “Everybody who goes to school should be able to have a broader educational experience.
Our planning has in some ways involved [Bud’s] words. This is more than a building project, this is an opportunity for Kirkwood to have more of those out of classroom experiences that are academic…while at the same time having a great space to have a cheeseburger, catch a concert, take a nap, meet with an advisor. All those things can happen in one space.”