Wood design program gets national attention

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As he entered his senior year at Halifax County High School in fall 2008, McKenzie Stevens was anxious about his job prospects. That changed when he began taking courses through WoodLINKS, a dual-enrollment project offering Halifax students courses from the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center’s Business of Art and Design program.

The coursework introduced Stevens to wood design, engineering and manufacturing. Ten months later, Stevens and fellow WoodLINKS student John Barry won first place in the Fresh Wood Student Competition n Las Vegas with their original design: a modern version of the Queen Anne side chair.

The award, sponsored by the Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers, is one of several developments that have raised the visibility of the higher education center’s Wood Product Design and Development curriculum. It is one of two academic tracks within the Business of Art and Design program.  The concentration, which provides a foundation in design, engineering and building, is available to 11th- and 12th-grade high school students as well as the center’s college students. Stevens and Barry are now full-time students at the South Boston-based center, pursuing associate’s degrees in applied science.

“Through this program, students can get good fundamental exposure and applied experience in these areas and then start to pursue them directly into the work force or go on to a four-year college,” says David Kenealy, director of the Wood Product Design and Development program.

Since October, Business of Art and Design students have been studying in a new 7,000-square-foot lab, complete with high-performance equipment from France-based Missler Software, an education center partner.

This semester, 10 high school and college students are working on a high-profile project. Martinsville Speedway is allowing them to design and produce one of its famed trophy clocks, which are presented to winning drivers.  The grandfather clocks, once made locally by Ridgeway Clocks, have been produced overseas since the company relocated.

“It’s a fabulous partnership,” says Kenealy. “It gives us exposure and our students an opportunity to work on a real-life design challenge and bring this project back to Virginia. We have a lot of pride in being able to do that.”

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