COLUMBUS - On a cold, windy day in January, Chad Gibson walked the 10 students in his city and regional planning class up to a hillside just outside of Jeffersonville and gave them a view of the sprawling cornfield that he’d told them about.
Where some people might have just seen snow-covered farmland, these particular students saw opportunity.
“This is a very special opportunity for our students,” said Gibson, a professor at The Ohio State University. “Classes like this help bridge the gap between academics and the professional world.”
Gibson’s class found itself studying the 1,600 acres that make up the Jobs Ready Mega Site in Jefferson Township after Fayette County Economic Development Specialist Jamie Gentry approached Ohio State to see if any classes would be interested in doing so.
The class, considered a “studio” course, involves students researching the site and creating a plan about how to construct and organize it, market it to potential businesses who may want to build there and, in general, make the site a success.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for the students, as well as for Fayette County, to collaborate and to tap into these brilliant minds,” Gibson said.
Wednesday night at Ohio State’s Knowlton Hall, the students had an opportunity to present their mid-term findings to a group that included Gentry, Sen. Bob Peterson, Fayette County Engineer Steve Luebbe and Fayette County Commissioners Dan Dean and Tony Anderson.
“It’s great to have a new fresh perspective from people who haven’t been around it since its beginning,” said Peterson, who served as a Fayette County Commissioner when the Mega Site was first being developed. “It is interesting to see a 20 year old’s perspective of this site as opposed to our perspective.”
In a 40 minute presentation, Gibson’s students showed the information that they had been working on this semester. They then both asked and answered questions from those in attendance.
“We’re doing something we’ve pretty much never done in our other classes,” say James Stiving, one of the students working on the Mega Site project. “It’s a completely new experience.”
“The last project we worked on involved Marble Cliff, which is a very small community,” said Brad Fisher, also a student working on the project. “This is a huge project.”
After visiting Fayette County in January to see the site for the first time, the students returned to Columbus and began to brainstorm about what aspects of the project that the group needed to study and which class members would do what jobs.
“Early on we made a list of things that we needed to do and then we picked out who did what best,” said Stiving.
“We’ve shuffled things around, too,” added Fisher. “We wanted everyone to get a chance to look at things to maybe help us get some new ideas.”
“I allow them to focus on an area of the project that interests them most,” said Gibson. “There are many disciplines that work together in planning. These students are getting experience in all the fields.”
Wednesday’s presentation touched on topics ranging from similar Mega Sites that could be viewed as competitors, available work force, housing availability, transportation logistics and marketing tools, just to name a few.
“You get a lot of bright minds that are looking at things from a fresh new angle. That’s always a good idea,” said Luebbe. “I loved the comparison chart they made (showing the other Mega Sites). It’s nice to know what else is out there.”
Peterson added that there were several instances where the students’ perspectives on the challenges and possibilities regarding the Mega Site’s future were things that hadn’t been thought of in the past.
“They are looking at it from years of experience in this industry and we haven’t even began our careers yet,” said Hannah Gray, one of the students in the class. “We see a lot of possibilities along with the reality. We’re just coming in with a fresh look.”
Following Ohio State’s upcoming spring break, the students will resume work on the project. When it is complete the research will be turned over to Fayette County so that it can be put into use.
“They have six more weeks of changes,” said Dean. “They’re going to try and tweak it with any more information they find or any changes that we might suggest.”