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Hooks Institute turns office renovation into hands-on learning opportunity

With hard hats and T-squares at the ready, students from the University of Memphis are taking part in a learning opportunity offered by the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change.

Renovations under the management of RKA Construction and A2H Engineers Architects and Planners are underway at the Institute’s new offices on the 11th floor of Wilder Tower. Experts from the two companies have worked alongside Hooks Institute staff to develop an educational module to leverage this process as an on-site, experiential learning opportunity for University of Memphis students.

Participants include members of the Hooks Institute’s student success programs as well as students from the Herff College of Engineering.

Over the course of four learning sessions, students are invited to review the official plans and drawings for the space, learn about construction project management, the local and state permitting process, and visit the renovation site during two hard hat tours. Students who complete three of the four sessions will receive a special certificate from the Hooks Institute and its corporate partners.

“It was an eye-opening experience, seeing how places I see every day are constructed,” said Adeel Khawaja, an engineering student at UofM and program participant. “It demystified construction and architecture for me, and I am grateful to have had this experience.

Amy Ruggaber, strategic partnerships consultant for the Hooks Institute and manager of the program, said, “As anyone who has gone through a renovation knows, it is a learning experience. (Hooks Institute) Executive Director Daphene McFerren and the Hooks staff wanted to find a meaningful way to share this journey with participants in our student success programs and the University at large. …

Ruggaber said there are many good jobs available through the construction industry that utilize all kinds of skills, and “we wanted to highlight that. We were so pleased when RKA and A2H agreed to help us turn the renovation itself into a learning experience.”

Patrick Johnston of RKA Construction said, “We are thrilled to be renovating the 11th Floor of Wilder Tower for the Hooks Institute and helping to advance the mission of the Hooks Institute. … An added bonus is that RKA is helping to teach the UofM engineering students and students from the Hooks Institute programs about the construction process as the project progresses. 

“This training will help students develop workforce experiences which will ultimately benefit not only the students but employers like RKA in their futures in the construction and engineering industries.”

Logan Meeks is former board chair of the Hooks Institute’s advisory board and president of A2H.

“UofM engineering students and students enrolled in the Hooks African American Male Initiative (HAAMI) and A Seat at the Table are learning from the design created by A2H. … These UofM students will have a head start in understanding the diverse careers that exist in architecture, engineering, and construction, and that he hopes students will be inspired to consider careers in these fields.”

Michael Swafford, a program participant and also a part of HAAMI, said, “This has really exposed my mind to more engineering out there in the real world.”

Student Aleks Vincent said he “went into Mechanical Engineering not really knowing a lot of career possibilities, but now with this (program) I know just how involved construction really is and how detailed everything is.”

A2H team members Lisa Starzynski, Ryan Coopwood and Phillip Haynes are leading their portion of the program while RKA is represented by Johnston, Kat Gates, Sean Dial and Ann Cooper.

“This program is so unique, and it means that the generous support provided by our donors for the renovation goes beyond the brick-and-mortar transformation, also providing an educational component for our students,” Ruggaber said.

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