Fusing industry and education for real-world learning
“If we design a school, we’ve failed.”
– David J. Wilkerson, Ph.D., Former Superintendent of the Waukee Community School District.
It’s no secret the nation is facing economic challenges that are making the cost of education higher. When paired with declining earnings and an ever-changing workforce, it’s becoming harder for students (and their parents) to predict what their futures hold. While this all sounds bleak, these trends are actually helping create programs and facilities that prepare students for the future by helping them build the skills needed for in-demand careers and entrepreneurialism—giving students the knowledge and motivation needed to be successful no matter what road they take, whether that be in a collegiate setting or the workforce.
Enter the Waukee Innovation & Learning Center (WILC): a comprehensive educational experience for students that brings together educational curriculum with business acumen, all under one roof. Home to the Waukee Aspiring Professional Experience (APEX) program—a collaborative program consisting of education, business and community members united to help students develop into highly skilled and adaptable leaders—WILC brings real-world experiences to the high school setting. Upon visiting WILC, Tim Cook, Apple CEO, shared with The Des Moines Register, “I consider it a model for the school of the future. But the great thing is, it’s happening today.”
WILC’s student-focused design allows students to research, think and create. Its co-working zone, or Hub, allows professionals to partner with students in an inviting, central gathering space. They can connect through exhibiting projects or working on pitches. Other spaces like enclaves, workshops and a research lab can be adjusted or repurposed for various user needs even outside the student population. For example, faculty can use various rooms for evaluations or meetings, local businesses can reserve workstations or hold conferences and events, and the community can utilize rooms for presentations and town halls.
“The design process was comprehensive, involving our full school community, and requiring participants to stretch their thinking,” said Wilkerson. “Everyone was engaged in thinking outside the box to create new and unique learning spaces that represent what our students will experience in the private sector and beyond! I was extremely pleased with the process and end result and am confident our students and communities will benefit for years to come.”