This post was composed by Steve Hanisch, instructor in the ACE Academy in the Industrial Technology department. The original document was written as a reflection in the Fall 2013 section of the History of the Community College.
This paper will answer the question, “Since you started this semester, what has inspired you as a faculty member at Kirkwood?” To better understand my answer it helps to understand my journey from a construction professional to a teacher.
Motivation came from both likely and unlikely sources during my construction career. Money is the obvious motivator for any entrepreneur, but there was always more to it for me. Construction offers unique challenges and work that is both tangible and engaging. There were always opportunities to learn new construction systems, work with new equipment and materials or simply streamline specialized skill sets you already possessed. I had a strong aptitude for my work and I always felt like a human sponge, so learning was never a chore. It was always the fun part of work for me. Not only did I enjoy learning and applying new skills, but I also enjoyed passing along what I knew to others.
I ran an open shop construction company, meaning I was not obligated to use union labor. The advantage for me was that I had a great deal of freedom to negotiate pay and benefits. I could offer whatever training to whomever I though was worthy. I could offer a lot of opportunities for overtime and bonuses based on exceptional work and innovation. I traveled quite a bit for work and put in extraordinarily long hours. While there was always a connection to profit for me, what I ended up realizing is that the money motive can be extremely addictive. More importantly, this lifestyle often lacks balance is not always healthy. There are times when my enthusiasm was not matched by those I relied on. Traveling and working long hours takes everyone away from their families and the lifestyle can be physically and emotionally grueling.
I refined my management and teaching skills during the latter part of my career. I also started a family. It was during this time that I realized the enjoyment I derived from training others to do excellent work was more rewarding than the work I was doing myself. I began to ask myself the question, “Should I be a teacher instead of an construction company owner?” My motivations became blurred.
The next step of this journey started with an opportunity to teach as an adjunct instructor. I dove in with the same level of enthusiasm I had in the field. I think I made a lot of the same mistakes many new instructors make, like trying to make the educational environment identical to the actual work environment. Every early failure was met with grace. There was always a colleague to offer suggestions and inspire me with examples from their experience. I had two years to practice teaching here before my real test. I spent the last year, teaching high school industrial technologies on a one-year replacement contract. I would not disagree with the argument that high school teachers are born to do their job. I realized during that year, I was probably always one of those people. I just had never done what I do in a public school before. When the opportunity to teach at a regional academy came up this year, I jumped at the opportunity. I could already see the advantage of an environment that paired interested high school students with career specialists in their area of interest. I was not disappointed. This year has been an amazing experience.
The concept of a career academy is not a new one, it was commonplace several decades ago, but fell out of favor as problems developed with the process of student selection and placement. Career academies have reemerged as new, more successful models have developed. Career academies are commonplace in most other developed countries.
The architecture, construction and engineering (ACE academy) not only provides students with a new opportunity for industrial technology training during a time when public school programs are being eliminated, it also directly addresses a community need. The need is a critical shortage of skilled professional construction trade workers. This need will grow because the existing population of trade workers is dominated by baby boomers. We will lose those workers as they retire in the next ten years. The relationships, partnerships and collaboration opportunities are nearly endless. This has inspired renewed interest on the part of former industry partners to rejoin the effort to guide students toward careers in their field.
I will illustrate several examples. The Greater Iowa City Home Builders Association had a long-standing partnership with the Iowa City school’s student built house program. The ICHBA sponsored the program by acquiring properties, providing tools and equipment and helping with marketing and the sale of the house. This program was cut by the Iowa City school district after forty-one continuous years in existence. Industrial technologies have largely disappeared from the Iowa City schools as the district changes its focus. Since then, several smaller surrounding school districts have eliminated industrial technologies from their programming entirely. This has created a rift in the relationships between industry and the schools. The reasons for budget cuts can’t be ignored, but it hurts when your program is the one that is eliminated. The ACE academy is breathing new life into the aspirations of the ICHBA and other industry partners. The local trade organizations are once again working with high school students in Iowa City and surrounding areas through our new partnership.
Industrial Technology teachers throughout the region fear similar cuts. In most cases they are powerless to stop them, but a new tool has emerged through an initiative that an innovative instructor in our department started. Joe Greathouse formed a regional consortium of industrial technology instructors. Over the last three years, this group of instructors has worked together to design a curriculum that aligns to state standards and completes a grade 8-14 sequence of ACE courses that include the courses taught in our career academy for concurrent enrollment. This sequence of ACE courses not only helps guide students into careers in our industry, but is saves their families thousands of dollars in college tuition. I have been a member of the consortium for two years and have witnessed the impact this organization has had on its members. It’s been empowering for the teachers and it’s an exceptional model of collaboration.
Through my involvement in the consortium I’ve also been a part of another initiative. Joe Greathouse has also been working on an alternative to replace the void left by the Iowa City student built house program. He discovered the ACE Mentor Program of America. The ACE Mentor Program is a national not-for-profit organization with a mission to engage, excite and enlighten high school students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering and construction. ACE affiliates form an afterschool program that provides mentoring for high school students. The goal is to inspire them to pursue careers in design and construction. It’s now the construction industry’s fastest growing high school mentoring program, reaching over 8000 students annually in 40 states and over 200 cities nationwide. This Fall I was assigned the responsibility of forming an ACE Mentor affiliate chapter in the Corridor. This is an exciting but daunting task. So far I have been inspired to continue by the enthusiastic support I‘ve received from industry.
It would seem that I’ve found an adequate substitute for the busy lifestyle I enjoyed as a construction professional. There are few other similarities however. I rarely encounter the kind of difficult people that I often had to work with or around during my construction career. Almost everyone at Kirkwood greets me with a smile. I describe this as a kinder, gentler place than the one I left. That means a lot to me as a parent. Children softened my heart a bit and I’m glad to find meaningful work in the latter half of life that values kindness and concern for others over productivity and profit.
About Steve Hanisch
Steve Hanisch is teaching Construction Management and Architecture courses for concurrent enrollment as part of the new Johnson County Regional Academy. His teaching experience prior to this position includes three years as an adjunct instructor of Industrial Technologies: Construction Management and one year as an Industrial Technologies: Construction teacher at Prairie High School. Steve holds a B.M. from the University of Iowa and an A.A.S. in Construction Management from Kirkwood. Before teaching Steve worked for 18 years as a general contractor, modular construction specialist and craftsman. He looks forward to being the instructor of the Construction Management and Architecture Academy on the new Kirkwood campus at the University of Iowa.