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APEX WILC Building
January 26, 2017
Waukee High School students are thoroughly familiar with the feeling of reading a whiteboard while leaning against a blue, metal chair. As they grow older, students begin to feel restless in their chair, and a sense of either fear or curiosity surrounds their future as the graduation date grows closer. Through the Waukee APEX (Aspiring Professional Experience) program and the new WILC (Waukee Innovation and Learning Center), an environment for exploration of career and skill interests has been established in the community.
Michelle Hill, director of APEX, has been involved in the program since the start, and is excited to see the building finally finished. Dr. David Wilkerson, the superintendent until this calendar year, put together a group of teachers and DMACC officials, and they went to see a program similar to APEX that another school had organized. “Dr. Wilkerson looked at me and asked ‘What do you think?’ and I said, ‘Well, when we do this, it’s going to be great. It’s going to happen fast,’” Hill recalled. She then taught the Design and Communication Solutions (DCS) course, and eventually applied for the director position. “We knew we were going to build a building; we didn’t know exactly what it would be. Dr. Wilkerson’s famous quote is ‘if you build a school, you did it wrong.’ I don’t think we built a school at all.”
“The three goals we had for the program were [to] support students, support our economic development, and we knew we had to move population out of the [existing high school] building,” Hill recalled. The second high school will not be in use for a few more years, and the student population is steadily growing. “This is an opportunity to move students, but also do something innovative and support their college careers and support businesses.” She Acknowledged the pioneer of Waukee APEX, “Dr. Wilkerson had a very amazing vision for this, and we are lucky it’s been supported by our community and our district. They get this, they get why it’s good for everyone.”
Waukee graduate Ian Coon was contributed early on in this vision, and is excited for the future of the program. “I think that the WILC is so important for having a space for business & education to come together to collaborate all the time. Students can work during non-traditional school hours and a community of start-ups will help the Waukee economy thrive,” he expressed. On the design of the building, Coon explained, “Invision Architecture partnered with Cannon Design out of Chicago during the exploration & design phase of the building process. During that time both Justin Sindelar and I were at a few workshops and meetings for the facility.” These discussions took place in 2014 and 2015, before the school board had voted to pay for building a facility, which ended up costing $25 million according to WaukeeSchools.org.
They focused on creating a space that was open and cohabitable. “It’s meant to be in flux: we can change anything and everything is movable. This place is wired to the hills … the electricity and data, how the connected everything, it’s very high tech,” Hill explained. “I don’t really have an office in here, anywhere, because we wanted everything to be open.”
Hill had a group of four students, Hannah Cline, Lexi Roeden, Callie Earney, and Alli Franka help her design a dining room table for her to work and meet with people.
“I’m a big family person, and people call me momma Hill, and I talk about the APEX family all the time. So I don’t have an office, but want a kitchen table, so that’s my office. So they [APEX students] designed this, and a company called IPI built it for us, and did a fantastic job,” she elaborated. “It’s a reclaimed barnwood top, so it’s actually from a barn near Eldora, and it’s one of the only pieces in the entire building that has the APEX ‘X’ on it. I’m so happy with how it turned out. It’s so original.”
“The Hub is the cafe-esque food station intended to be the intersection of all of the rooms where students can get lunch or a snack. [There will be] lots of coffee, lots of take and go things like salads and wraps,” Hill noted. The food services provider has been working with foods and Prostart classes to brainstorm ideas. “Technically, we are not an attendance center, so the federal and state laws about sugar and salt in school lunches don’t apply here. We don’t want to go overboard, obviously we don’t want to be totally unhealthy, but they can play with those levels a bit, which is cool.”
“All the rooms were named by the [architecture and] engineering class, and we surveyed all of APEX, so you will notice that all the conference rooms are color blocked. We started kind of a monopoly idea, and named all the rooms after Waukee,” Hill explained. Senior Alivia Bergman was part of the naming, and her favorites include ‘The Hub’ and ‘The Enterprise.’ “My partner, Andy Boeke, and I started out with the theme of Waukee Monopoly,” Bergman stated. “So, we tried to draw inspiration from the roots of our city. We did some research on the original buildings in the area, and the iconic spots to visit in present day.”Bergman also took on designing a green wall for the WILC alongside senior Hannah Schafer. Bergman summarized, “The best part of the process was designing the actual look of the wall. My partner and I decided we wanted the APEX logo right in the center, and we worked to find the perfect positions for the different types of plants in order to properly produce the image.” Bergman also reflected, “I was interested in designing the green wall because of the creative element. The project involved a lot of background research to determine what features our wall needed to include.” She looks forward to the unique beauty of the wall, as well as the health benefits, such as producing oxygen.
For the Agriculture and Engineering APEX, Bergman believes the WILC will be a great asset because of the opportunities its technology provides. “Mr. Cooper has acquired high quality computers with the ability to run engineering software, [and] this will greatly improve our ability to 3D render our projects,” the senior shared. “We will also have access to virtual reality equipment that will make the architecture side of the program more hands on.” She also sees a future for more cross strand creativity. “The building provides many collaborative spaces that will allow for big meetings and presentations.”
“We haven’t been able to get a lot of students into research labs because they are under eighteen. Now we have a research lab. Everything that’s kind of been a barrier to us before, now we have the opportunity to do those things here.” The lab will not be open for a couple of months, and Dr. Holly Showalter, teacher of the Exploration of Health Sciences and Medicine strand, is ecstatic to get started.
Showalter spoke to the difference between the WILC lab and the experience in an average science classroom. “Science classes and science teachers [in Waukee] are great, but we don’t have anywhere near the capabilities we will have [at the WILC]. We can actually grow human cells. […] There’s a lot of specialized equipment in there that we don’t have [in Waukee High School].” Showalter explained the impact that the APEX strand could have on the future of students. “The students that come out of my lab will be super competitive. Maybe it’s not to get into undergraduate [college program.] […], but if they are going to a professional program like medical school or going into a science field, or if they have to interview for graduate school and they have that APEX experience on their resume, they have something to talk about that no one else in their interview will probably have.”
The other strands also have exciting new opportunities presented. The Information Management and Design (IMD) class is already called upon for cross strand assistance because technology is essential to so many types of projects. As the WILC becomes an atmosphere for collaboration, they will see an increase in these requests. Hill spoke about the name of the IMD room, explaining, “This Room is called the obelisk for a couple reasons. Mr. Palmer has taught in Greece, and obelisk is a greek word, and part of what we want people to know is that technology is foundational to everything. An obelisk is a fulcrum or pillar or foundation point.”
Other creative and thoughtful names include Gazebo, Sentinel, Sugarcreek, Boardwalk, and the Reel. The Obelisk room is next door to the Design and Communication solutions room, The Hue. The class instructor, Russ Goerend, is excited about the increase in communication and knowledge between the entire APEX organization. “The WILC is a space for us to co-work our aspiring professionals with business professionals.” Goerend believes this will be possible with more frequency now.
He also noted, “The WILC has helped me to reflect on the purpose of having our courses in host sites around the metro. Our host site partners provide opportunities for us that we cannot replicate at the WILC.” DCS meets at the DLR group downtown, which is an integrative design firm. At host sites such as the DLR group, students experience a legitimate workplace setting and get to know the professionals. “Our host sites also give us opportunities to explore careers in and around the Des Moines metro that we don’t have when we’re in our own space,” Goerend shared.
Hill looks forward to the acceleration in business relationships and those with startup and economic development partners. “Having the confidence to talk to people that they have been working with is so important. Working on projects that mean something to them is highly motivating. You don’t get those outcomes without collaborating with businesses.”
“I think for a long time, businesses have really wanted to work with education in some way, but they weren’t really sure how. I think this is a really great model, because it’s personalized for every student based on where they’re at, what they want to learn, and what they are passionate about, but it’s also very personalized for every business, too.”
Hill sees another advantage emerging from the growth of APEX in a new business start up class. “It’s the only class that we ask you to have already taken an APEX class. Let’s say you love DCS and want to continue, you can independently work with that instructor so you can continue to connect with some of those business partners on projects, but then you get the semester also to work with some of our startup community to really dive in to see if you have a business idea and if it’s something that will go. So it’s everything from discovery and market research to see if there’s anything out there like it, to learning what a finance model is and what you actually need to put together. It’s kind of like our entrepreneurship class where you put together a business plan, but it’s actually doing the work. Then the final is a shark tank style pitch to mentors that can support you, venture capitalists, angel investors, that kind of thing. We are really excited to put that all together.”
“We have had five businesses start up out of the program organically. I love entrepreneurship, I started a business right out of college and it was probably one of the best and scariest things I ever did,” Hill concluded. “They will get to work hand in hand with some of our other community startups, this will be their home base, too. What a better place if you are a startup nonprofit that doesn’t quite know what to do, you can use the same community services that we have.” She believes that all the varying skills of APEX strands can add something to a business.”
Hill thanked those who support APEX, sharing, “I have a fantastic team, we have fantastic business partners, and we have even cooler students that are doing really great things that people all over the world are talking about.”