A partnership between the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and Fort Smith Public School District educators has helped open the new Peak Innovation Center for health care, first responders, drone pilots and other vocational career opportunities for students.
The Peak Innovation Center opened March 28, UAFS officials announced.
Through the UAFS Western Arkansas Technical Center, students at Peak can complete college courses and earn credentials while still attending high school, many of which flow seamlessly into advanced degrees and job placement.
Students enrolled in automotive technology, computer-aided drafting, and welding will remain at the UAFS campus. The certified nursing assistant and licensed practical nursing programs will finish the spring semester at UAFS campus, but will be offered at Peak this fall.
“It just wasn’t practical to move programs like automotive and welding and computer aided design,” Amanda Seidenzahl, director of WATC said. “Those programs are also very capital intensive, but we already have good facilities on our campus to keep them there. We still have students in those programs. We’re still graduating students in those programs, and they often move into our additional programs that we have available on our campus, so we’re excited about that. This just provides more capacity in general for the Western Arkansas Technical Center.”
On Wednesday, the UAFS Board of Visitors and university administrators visited Peak Innovation for a tour led by Stephanie Freeman, career development facilitator, Amye Drackett, career development facilitator, and Seidenzahl, director of WATC.
The group visited the Baptist and Mercy Health Sciences lab where certified nursing assistants and licensed nurse practitioners can take classes and live tests with mannequins. Students who are interested in becoming emergency responders can practice with a real ambulance onsite at Peak.
The UAFS WATC program serves 21 school districts from Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Logan, Scott, and Sebastian counties, providing concurrent credit classes at no charge to participating high school students.
Following the tour, Seidenzahl, director of WATC, Dr. Latisha Settlage, dean of the College of Business and Industry at UAFS and Terisa Riley, chancellor at UAFS gave a short panel discussion about all the opportunities FSPS high school juniors and seniors will have at Peak.
Settlage said they are aware of the amount of capacity at Peak and their marketing team is working hard to present the programs to students and parents. Their team also interacts with Fort Smith Public Schools and their manufacturing partners.
“Because they, of course, will consume the product of all the skilled students that come out and are ready to work,” she said. “So we want to obviously market the skills and things the students come out with but we also want to emphasize the state of the art facility. So it’s really exciting.”
Settlage recalled one potential project in which a Fort Smith manufacturer came to their team at Peak and asked if they could donate materials to have FSPS students machine parts for them.
“Wow, that’s exciting,” she said. “That is a project that is clearly something that makes those skills front and center for the students that will help us out from a budget perspective, quite honestly. And it also helps them out. So it’s kind of this win-win-win-win-win all over the place for Fort Smith. I think those kinds of things put us on the map, which we’re always interested in.”
The following courses now active at Peak include automation and robotics, computer-integrated machining, electronics technology/industrial maintenance, emergency medical responder, medical office assistant, network engineering, and unmanned aerial systems.
“And so they’re making it affordable so students are earning credentials, they’re able to go out to work, and make their life story instead of working three jobs to get through college,” Riley, chancellor at UAFS said. “Can you imagine if instead, when you’re in high school, you can get your credentials without paying a penny, go out and work and then actually pursue that four year degree so I think our pipeline is where we’re headed next. Just how do you smooth that process from completing the credential here or on campus and continuing your education? How do you make a completely smooth pathway? We want to be there for sure. But I have no doubt that with the partnerships and relationships that we have, that it’s just getting easier.”
Settlage said, “Remember the cost of this to the student is zero thanks to the support of this. What we’re investing in with all of these grants, this university and the office, our partners. I mean, obviously somebody pays the costs but to the student it’s zero.”