The workforce needs in Anne Arundel County in Maryland were clear: plumbers, electricians, construction workers, and other skilled tradespeople were missing in action.
Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) had some skilled trades programs already. While many students participated in apprenticeship programs, there were no lab spaces on campus for students to hone their craft. Often, they had to drive to Baltimore, about 40 minutes away, to use space borrowed from AACC partners. To fill this gap and bring more attention to the opportunities provided by these careers, AACC did something it had never done in its 60-year history: look directly to its community for funds.
The college hoped to raise at least $4 million to build a small but state-of-the-art building. Over 200 donations later, some as small as $5, AACC exceeded their goal and raised $4.25 million. The Clauson Center for Innovation and Skilled Trades was completed in December. It will host its first classes in February, teaching electronics, HVAC, plumbing, welding, framing, finish carpentry, and general contracting.
“It’s the first of its kind, fully funded solely through the kindness and support of community,” said Kip Kunsman, dean of the school of continuing education and workforce development at AACC.
Having a skilled trade building located on campus can help students truly feel like they are members of the college and make the resources AACC has to offer more easily accessible, said Kunsman.
“There’s a stigma with skilled trades. We’ve done everything we can to make [these students] feel like they are part of this college, to recognize their worth in their community,” said Kunsman. “These jobs pay well and lead to incredible careers.”
AACC created an advisory board of employers in the local economy, who shared their needs and what they felt were the greatest barriers to employment. Using the board as a guide, AACC was able to tailor its program. Now that the Clauson Center is open, the board will assist in spreading the word that new classes are available to anyone who is interested, as AACC accepts 100% of its applicants.
Sandy Jones, assistant dean of continuing education and workforce development at AACC, and Kunsman developed a “workforce success skills” course because many employers said they needed workers who were skilled in customer service and management. This class will help students develop their dependability and professionalism, while also teaching how to craft a resume and how to interview.
Jones and Kunsman also helped to create an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree that offers 12 credits to any student who completes their apprenticeship program. Because the center is on campus, AACC President Dr. Dawn Lindsay said she believes it might be possible that students who come for training in one field might gain an interest in another course in a completely different field. With their AAS, students will be able to jump into another degree with credits already under their belt.
The AACC Foundation helped lead the capital campaign, raising money for the new center in tandem with a larger $9 million goal used for scholarship creation. The foundation will continue to support trade students in financial need, helping to cover material fees. The building itself was designed to be easily expanded, should the new courses prove to be successful.
“It will take awhile to build the programs,” said Jones, “But we anticipate [enrollment] will be significant.”
The prospect of raising over $4 million from the community was daunting for some, but Lindsay said the foundation maintained its confidence that they could hit the mark.
“AACC is very well known and supported in our county. We start with a connected community that takes a lot of pride in our college and its national reputation,” said Lindsay. “We’ve garnered a lot of faith. People believe in us because we deliver. We’re the workforce driver of the community.”
AACC has made such an impact that Jim and Janet Clauson, a local couple, decided to donate $1 million to the new skilled trades building, claiming the honor of naming the center with their largesse. The gift, one of the largest in AACC’s history, came as a total surprise to Lindsay.
“Janet and Jim pulled me aside and asked me a lot of questions,” said Lindsay. “The next day they came back and said, we’d like to fund this. It speaks to the commitment the community has to supporting this college.”
That commitment, said Lindsay, is an extraordinary one, born of trust and a palpable affection for the county’s college. Lindsay estimates that almost everyone in the county likely has some connection with the school, and, with the Clauson Center’s completion, she hopes that AACC can continue to give back to the community that has given them so much.
Liann Herder can be reached at [email protected].