With just weeks to go before the first day of school at Stark State College Akron, Aris Flowers-Brown got a sneak peek on Thursday of her future classrooms.
The white boards, the desks and the mannequins, she expected. But the third floor of the year-old building is now also outfitted with a simulation center, a full-scale hospital wing and a cadaver laboratory.
"It's a whole new world," Flowers said. "You're already in your field. You're already in your clinicals."
Stark State opened its Akron campus last year, but with just two of the four floors ready for students. The college debuted the last two floors Thursday, marking the completion of the build-out and the launch of a new school year at full capacity.
"Today we are excited to expand our footprint, in this building and in our academic program offerings," Stark State Akron Executive Director Donald Mullen said.
The school had a total of 2,400 students in its first year, and expects to have about 2,000 students who attend the school at any given time starting this fall. In addition to the medical floor, which will offer degrees in areas like medical assisting and nursing, the college also opened the first floor classrooms for electrical engineering and computer networking.
The cost of the new building was $24 million, with $10 million in state funding and the rest coming from the college's reserves.
Stark State President Para Jones said the expansion makes the college the fourth largest community college in Ohio.
"We have the opportunity, serving two of Ohio's largest counties, to get a lot more attention for the needs of the people of the region," Jones said. "And we intend to do that."
Having a cadaver lab, through a partnership with Northeast Ohio Medical University, is a rarity at the undergraduate level, Jones said.
The simulation center has a one-way mirror to allow staff to watch a student perform procedures on a mannequin without a crowd surrounding them. The back classroom of the wing simulates a hospital floor, with several patient beds separated by curtains. Those in the nursing program will work in the same area as those learning phlebotomy.
The various hands-on opportunities impressed Flowers-Brown, who is a medical assistant but will be returning to school for her nursing degree.
"When you have the real-life brought into the classroom, it makes learning so much easier," she said.
Jones said the goal is to connect people with jobs.
For a community college to step into that role is "sorely needed," Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro said.
"It makes our whole community rise," she said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Pignolet at email@example.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.