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Three years to the date after boarding a school bus for a trip to a DeWitt cornfield in the snow, business community leaders, area K-12 schools and Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC) celebrated the grand opening of the DeWitt Career Advancement Center. “It’s about exploring opportunities,” Angela Rheingans, president & CEO of the DeWitt Chamber and Development Co. told the QCBJ about the new Center located at DeWitt's Crossroads Business Park at 817 E. Industrial St. DeWitt. She added that area manufacturers are more willing today to take a chance on someone who has had some classes, who actually worked on CNC machines and shows a genuine interest in what they are doing. “This is a place where young people can explore and learn about what they might want to do,” Ms. Rheingans said during the Thursday, Oct. 19 event. “Employers are very excited about a workforce coming straight out of high school that can say ‘I’ve done it and I like it.’” It was Ms. Rheingans who pitched the idea, figuratively driving the bus, to locate the $8 million, 27,000-square-foot multi-purpose center in DeWitt which she said is the most central location for students in the Clinton Community College region. The DeWitt Career Advancement Center features state-of-the-art labs, classrooms, and a student common area. It hosts career academies and college programs in health care, business, construction, IT, agriculture, and CNC machining. On that October 2020 exploratory bus trip were superintendents from eight school districts throughout Clinton and Jackson counties, area business leaders, the EICC Board of Trustees, and EICC administrators. The new DeWitt Career Advancement Center was the final development piece in EICC’s $40 million bond referendum that passed with an overwhelming 88% of Clinton County voters in 2021. It also funded a new Health Sciences Center at Scott Community College, expanded Career and Technical training facilities at Clinton Community College (CCC) as well as a new Career Advancement Center at Muscatine Community College. “Sixty-five percent of the jobs in this community require some sort of post-secondary education. We were not hitting that mark,” Dr. Brian Kelly, CCC president and EICC vice chancellor of strategy support and planning, told the Oct. 19 grand opening event crowd. “Three years ago when we started this conversation with our partners, we said ‘what can we do to change this?’ Today, when we look at a room like this and a facility like this, we see the beginning of change to make sure our community members, our students, have the skills to participate in an economy of the future.” Dr. Kelly credited the collective work of the community for the changes. He told the QCBJ that local employers participated in advisory meetings to help align their needs with the EICC curriculum and the programs at the DeWitt Center. Additionally, Dr. Kelly pointed to the hard work by the area’s K-12 school leadership and the importance for high school students to be able to take classes in areas of agriculture, business, construction technology, CNC machining, health care and information technology. “I stand here today as a community college graduate, and I stand here today as a first-generation community college student. I know the impact a community college education can have on one’s life” added Dr. Kelly. Representing those area K-12 schools was Dan Peterson, superintendent at Central DeWitt Community School District. “We needed this day to happen so that we could get students and families into the building to see what we’re doing here,” Mr. Peterson told the QCBJ. “Everyone’s incredibly excited about it.” Mr. Peterson said they plan to bus their students to the Career Advancement Center so they can see first-hand everything that’s available. He said his District has committed to enrolling 50 students per year in the various Career Academies at the Center. Career Academies are partnerships with area high schools where students receive hands-on career training and college credits at no cost to them. Career Academies offered at the DeWitt Center will include: agriculture, construction, IT networking, health care, and small business. Currently, the Small Business Management program has students taking classes, while all others will begin in the Fall of 2024. “The community, parents, and students are all excited and eager to learn more,” said Dr. Peterson. “We don’t have a program quite like this, so we're excited to get our students involved and ramped up.” “In the years to come, I envision this center to be a place where students discover their passion, refine their skills, and embark on meaningful career paths,” Dr. Peterson told the audience, “a place where industry meets education creating a seamless transition from classroom to career.”