Interdisciplinary class to convert Dixon Valve property into innovation hub

By Heather Fabrtize

News Co-Editor

A new, collaborative course between the Departments of Business and Education is gauging community opinion on how Washington College can transform its off-campus properties into a resource space for Chestertown residents.

Situated at 800 High St., the warehouse was once a Dixon Valve location; now, its 200 x 80 square feet of space, historically coined the Pipe Yard, sits mostly abandoned. By undertaking a stakeholder engagement process, the students involved in this course hope to determine what to do with it.

Thomas V. Miller Director of Civic Engagement Dr. Patrick Nugent, Chair of Education Dr. Sara Clarke-De Reza, and Chair of Business Dr. Caddie Putnam Rankin all rotate leading the three-hour class and teaching lessons that fall under their area of expertise.

The course overviewed several recurring concepts: learning the history of the space, identifying major stakeholders in the local and campus communities, determining the parameters of the grant that is funding their work, and discussing practical collection of their data.

They hope that, by the end, their final feasibility study will indicate the necessity of pursuing the project. Dr. Clarke De-Reza said that they also plan to use the results to design a proposal for what an innovation hub “that meets the needs of our campus and wider community” could look like.

An early concern that they knew they needed to address was ensuring that the space would be honored for its history and cultural significance. According to Dr. Nugent, 800 High St. was, for 80 years, home to an industrial production which provided generations of Kent County workers with community and security.

“The proposed innovation hub is situated on a broad stretch of land that connects the campus to Upper Calvert Street…a vibrant and historically African American neighborhood, providing the college with an incredible opportunity for creating an inclusive, dynamic, and mutually beneficial crossroads between campus and community,” Dr. Nugent said.

To ensure that local residents were also passionate about moving forward with the project, collaboration became one of the most foundational parts of the course. Not only does the class include a mix of business and education majors, as well as museum, field, and community education minors, but also three members of the local community.

According to senior Justin Ly, these residents provide a unique perspective on the project; which is important, considering the tentative proposal is for it to be a joint space shared by both groups.

“Ultimately the goal is to have a space that not only benefits the College but impacts and improves the community, which to me is not only really cool but important to inspiring the next generation of creators and entrepreneurs that can change the world,” Ly said.

A $24,500 grant supports the data-collection section of this project. Students plan to use hundreds of surveys; focus groups with members of the College and local communities, as well as their stakeholders; and interviews to determine what is most needed from the space.

Class involvement will steadily increase as the semester goes on, culminating in three presentations analyzing the results of their data and proposing a design for the space.

According to Ly, their general group vision is that the space will promote entrepreneurship and serve as a makerspace.

“The Hub would provide a space for college students to work on projects and perhaps their capstones, producing tangible products that could make a difference,” Ly said. “The space could also provide programming for the community to help serve entrepreneurs and makers in Chestertown and Kent County that have an idea but may not have the means or expertise to develop it on their own.”

Dr. Putnam Rankin, calling on the continued and emphasized collaboration between locals and students, hopes that the work will engage the outside community and prove that this space is beneficial for all of Chestertown’s residents.

“Decisions are often made without robust community input and the outcomes of these projects are not always ideal,” Dr. Putnam Rankin said. “The goals for the future Innovation Hub at Washington College is to actively engage the community in the decision making so that we create an inclusive, dynamic, and welcoming space where community and campus members can thrive.”

Currently, the course’s members are beginning the process of holding focus groups with various stakeholders and potential users of the space. Dr. Putnam Rankin also emailed a five-minute survey to the campus community on Friday, Feb. 23 to gather input on how the space could best be utilized.

QR code courtesy of the course

The class is encouraging community members to scan the QR code and share their perspectives on the space.

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