“It’s about the students.”
Such was the theme at September’s ribbon cutting for the John H. Witte, Jr. Hall of Sciences. Attendees toured the colorful, modern space, visualizing all of the dreams that will no doubt come to fruition within those walls.
“These facilities aren’t for me,” Dr. Michael Ash said. “Our generous donors won’t use this beautiful space. This is about the students. They now have access to the best resources and tools to enhance their educational journey.”
The tools referenced by President Ash include spacious labs with the latest in technology necessary for students to conduct experiments that tackle chemistry, biology, earth science, physics, anatomy, and physiology.
Connected by a skywalk to the Health Professions Center, the two buildings make up the Lawrence and Marilyn Matteson Family Health Sciences Complex.
“We have a new castle,” Physics instructor Dr. Rahmat Rahmat smiles. From his perspective as an instructor, he is impressed with the design that the architects from DLR Group put together.
“The layout of the building creates an atmosphere that prepares the students’ hearts, souls, and minds,” he says. “By the time the students come to my classroom, they are refreshed and fully ready to learn about science.”
Rahmat mentions the brightly lit two-story atrium that welcomes students to the Hall of Sciences. He says the high classroom ceilings let him conduct his classes in new, improved ways.
“These are physical science classes. We needed more physical space for our lab activities,” he says. “The bigger spaces let us expand our experiments, which also expands our minds,” he says.
The $6.5 million facility houses high-tech resources that Rahmat and his colleagues say support the learning process and prepare students for the steps they take upon graduation.
This includes updated software, machinery, and perhaps the most exciting piece of equipment, the zSpace system. This augmented reality technology enables instructors and students to examine various objects, from body organs to plants to automotive engines. When students put on special glasses, objects appear to be floating in mid-air right in front of them. A special stylus enables the controller to manipulate them in real time.
Students studying a unit on the heart, for instance, will use the tool to closely analyze the chambers, veins, and arteries, and can feel the pulse.
The college has five zSpace systems spread across both campuses. Instructors from various departments and disciplines are incorporating the zSpace systems into their lesson plans.
Agriculture instructor Sabrina Pidgeon is excited about the possibilities.
“Now we can observe the plant lifecycles in detail without having to step foot in the fields,” she says. “It helps students connect the dots between theory and practice faster and, I think, more thoroughly.”
With the West Burlington project complete, Dr. Ash has his eyes set on upgrading the health and science facilities on the Keokuk campus. The $800,000 makeover includes updated science labs, a patient simulation lab, and high-tech study areas to enhance student learning.
“We have some of the best faculty in the state who have worked wonders with limited resources,” Ash says. “Now with these new facilities and learning technologies, they’ll have the tools to offer even better instruction. That all adds up to a better educational experience for our students.”
As the campuses hum with excitement over the newest additions, news of alumni success came from the Iowa Board of Regents Report. The study analyzed the performance of transfer students from Iowa’s 15 community colleges who attended the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa.
Data shows that SCC students who transfer to the three major state universities in Iowa enter the schools with higher GPAs, earn higher GPAs the first semester, and perform better after the first year than the average Iowa community college student.
Dean of Arts & Science Dr. Chris Sedlack is pleased, but not surprised, to hear the results of this report. He says faculty and staff are focused on achieving SCC’s mission to provide accessible, quality programs and services, and this is the result of their dedication to the students.
“We have high quality faculty who meet students where they are and get them where they need to be, academically,” he says. “Additionally, our dedicated Student Services staff work closely with our students to create academic plans and develop their broader college skills.”
Three-fourths of SCC’s student population transfer to 4-year schools upon graduation. Dr. Sedlack notes that faculty who teach their courses are mindful of the knowledge and skills that students should master before transferring to universities.
“I see the performance of our transfer students as an indication that SCC is truly one of the best values in education you’ll find.”
In addition to the transfer student success report, students completing SCC’s health programs regularly rank highest in the state.
Dean of Health Professions Kristi Schroeder points to SCC nurse graduate licensure rates as further evidence of both quality faculty dedication and SCC student success.
“Our students regularly exceed state and national average passing rate,” she says. “They say our faculty are the reason they achieve this. Our faculty says it’s the students’ dedication to school and passion for their field. I think it’s both.”
The 2018 national average passing rate for licensed practitioners is 81%, and SCC graduates had a 100% passing rate. The national average for those with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing is 83% whereas 93% of SCC students who took the exam passed.
“These numbers show what we already know,” Ash says. “Our students are among the best and our faculty is right there with them, guiding them to success.”
Repeatedly marking their spot as the best in the state are SCC’s respiratory care students. In the spring, the respiratory care students attended the Iowa Society for Respiratory Care’s Lung Conference in Des Moines to compete in the annual knowledge competition.
For the tenth time in fifteen years, the club members brought home the first place trophy. What’s more, their own classmates took second place.
SCC Respiratory Care students Taylor Ahrens of Burlington, IA, Megan Brackelsberg of Keokuk, IA, and Courtney Otte of Keokuk, IA, were on the team that placed first. Abigail English of Kahoka, MO, Kelsey Francis of Kahoka, MO, and Gage Johnson of Montrose, IA, battled them in the final round, earning second place.
Brackelsberg says the ability of both teams to land in the final round speaks to how remarkable SCC’s respiratory care program is and, specifically, how devoted respiratory care program coordinator Stacy Lewis-Sells is to her students.
“We compete against 2- and 4- year schools, and we go to the competition feeling confident because Stacy prepares us,” Brackelsberg says. “We need to know these facts for our jobs, and she really cares about making sure we’re set for the future.”
Lewis-Sells says that the field is in need of more respiratory care therapists, and nearly all of her students have a job right out of school.
“Our students are highly sought after. I receive calls from facilities in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri requesting our grads,” Lewis-Sells says. “Respiratory care therapists are in high demand, and our students have made it evident that they leave the program with the tools needed to take on their career.”
While SCC graduates are choosing from a slew of employment opportunities, high school graduates are checking out SCC as they peruse college options. The college finds itself attracting valedictorians and salutatorians from regional high schools because of its Trustee Scholarship Program. Each year, about twenty of these students choose to become Blackhawks.
Brooke McGhee, a Mediapolis High School graduate, is in her second year at SCC, studying interactive social media marketing and entrepreneurship. She’s taking full advantage of what the college has to offer as a member of the President’s Leadership Academy, Graphic Design Club, and student-athlete on the college’s first women’s soccer team, which recently completed a successful season within the competitive NJCAA division. She said SCC drew her in for several reasons, with finances being one.
“I had been considering the University of Northern Iowa, but it didn’t feel right for me,” says McGhee. “Then I learned from the valedictorian in the class before me that she got a full ride here. At UNI I wouldn’t have gotten anything, and I felt like that hard work in high school was for nothing.”
With plans to start a marketing business upon graduation, McGhee cites Enrollment Specialist Barb Carroll and Graphic Arts Professor Carlene Woodside as particularly influential during her time at SCC.
“They’ve really had an impact on helping me decide what I want to do,” she says. “Sometimes you really just need someone to sit down and talk about it with you before you can figure out what you want to do.”
These stories are common to hear from students about SCC faculty.
“It’s about the students.”
A month after the Hall of Sciences donor reception, the college held a ribbon cutting ceremony and these four words were echoed again.
“They are the reason we are here,” Dr. Ash says. “They are the reason we make the decisions we make.”