CTE instructor adapts to change, renovates lab to improve student experience

“Improvise, adapt, overcome” — a quote made famous by actor Clint Eastwood in the movie Heartbreak Ridge and a commonly used slogan among U.S. Marines. Staff and students at Buckeye Career Center (BCC) in New Philadelphia, Ohio, frequently hear the same from Superintendent Bob Alsept.

Really, it has become a motto for our building during the COVID-19 pandemic. This health crisis brought many challenges to the world of career and technical education (CTE). But it has also brought a new mindset for many, including BCC Electrical Systems Technology (EST) instructor Jeremy Burdick. Burdick renovated his lab to make it the safest, most workable space for junior and senior students in the 2020–21 school year and beyond.

The problem

Previously, the Electrical Systems Technology lab featured a two-story residential structure; a steel-based commercial structure with small cubicles; and tabletops for related learning and circuit board projects. The 1,800 square-foot lab was thoughtfully designed to meet the needs of a growing program.

Flash forward to spring 2020. Students are learning remotely, and BCC faculty began to plan for what the 2020–21 school year would look like. Would students be able to return to in-person learning? Social distancing became one of the most spoken terms. That’s when Burdick’s mind began to wonder.

“I knew at our tables, we were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. And in the lab, we were working in pairs and groups.” He asked himself, “Is there a way we can restructure this lab so that each student could have their own piece of real estate?”

The design

Over the summer months, Burdick developed plans to redesign his lab. He started with the basic dimensions. Burdick drew 40 individual cubicles measuring 20 square feet each, along with workspaces for each student and hallways to allow for movement. The concept mimics what students would experience at SkillsUSA competitions.

Burdick wanted to innovate, while also still including traditional electrical methods.

“I wanted to involve wood and steel construction with some drywall,” he said. “The structures are only semi-permanent. They can be torn apart and changed each year without damaging the structural integrity.”

The build

Burdick completed the renovation with support from BCC’s Construction Technologies program. Once the new design plans were finalized and school opened, construction students began cutting the wood for the individual cubicles. Meanwhile, EST seniors started tearing down the former structure.

“It was a great learning opportunity. It was systematic and planned. We didn’t want to intermix lab groups,” said Burdick. “The construction students did as much as they could in their lab ahead of time.”

The units were then transported down the hall to the EST lab where Burdick’s students used constructed the 40-cubicle structure. Burdick also enlisted the help of the CAD/Development & Design lab to create professional blueprints that included all relevant electrical components. Graphic Arts students printed mass quantities of the blueprints. They also printed number labels to designate each student’s individual workspace.

Burdick hoped to complete the whole project by the end of the first semester. He actually finished within the first nine weeks of school.

The benefits

The number one benefit of Burdick’s lab renovation during the COVID-19 pandemic? The space for students! Each student has their own space, plus one other unoccupied cubicle for storage.

The open-ceiling concept allows for ample airflow inside the lab and brighter lighting.

Each unit belongs to one student, so they rarely work in the same space. The new design allows each student to work at their own pace on various projects while learning about the electrical field:

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • New construction
  • Maintenance
  • Service

Seniors create projects for the juniors to install in the cubicles. The current blended learning schedule has the two classes attending in-person on different days.

Enhanced perspective

As part of the construction crew for the project, the 2021 seniors have played a major role in the lab’s transformation. They experienced the former layout. And now they work in the new facility.

It is a bittersweet experience for Logan Wallace. “I was a little sad to see the lab house go, but I was excited for the change,” he said. “It’s nice to have your own spot to work.

“We have it set up so everyone is spaced out. Every student has their own quarters and materials to work with. We don’t have to exchange items with other people.”

Hunter Jones agreed. “I feel very safe in the lab. Plus we can now change everything out when needed and start brand new. It’s also extremely realistic to what you would actually experience in the workforce.”

Jones is an apprentice electrician for a local company. Industry professionals who serve as advisory board members to the program have also stated that the changes were beneficial to the student learning experience.

Rolling with change

When the pandemic began, few people thought we would be here now, in 2021, still trying to make adjustments to personal and professional lives. Superintendent Alsept believes this project offers just one example of how Buckeye Career Center is growing through the pandemic.

“This particular project really models a ‘can do’ attitude that is so important. We want our students to know that we will always face challenges, but it is our response that will determine our success,” said Alsept. “This project builds physical skills, but also teaches important life skills. I am very proud of our students, staff and our board of education for supporting and embracing this dynamic project.”

If the pandemic has taught educators anything, Burdick believes it is rolling with the punches. “No scenario will be perfect. We did what we could with the space we had,” he said. “Who knows, in 10 years we could be hit with other challenges (another pandemic, funding cuts, etc.). We have to be willing to change.

“Code changes. Products change, and kids change. You have to be willing to commit to something and try it. If it works, great. If not, go back to the drawing board,

“Improvise, adapt, overcome.”

Shyanne Carroll serves as the public relations coordinator at Buckeye Career Center, a career-technical school that serves high school and adult education students in New Philadelphia, Ohio. Email her.