HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Learning Center is now offering in-person instruction for mission-critical courses at its new location at Redstone Gateway.
The center, which provides technical and professional training for USACE and other government agencies, moved from the Bevill Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville to the first floor of Building 100 Secured Gateway in March. However, all classes were held virtually until May due to COVID-19 restrictions.
With the gradual introduction of in-person training, currently limited to critical courses with on-site requirements, students and instructors are finally able to enjoy the many amenities available in and around the new center. Roy Elam, USACE Learning Center director, said the move was designed with a focus on improving two major areas: workforce security and student experience.
“Because we’re on Redstone Arsenal, we can now access the secured USACE network through wifi, which we couldn’t do from the UAH campus, so just the increased cybersecurity is a huge benefit,” said Elam. “In addition, we now have security guards and CAC-access throughout the facility.”
The ability to log in to the secure network, combined with the facility’s new state-of-the-art video conferencing tools and monitors, allows classes to virtually connect with instructors and leadership across the globe. These technological advances proved to be beneficial for the new center’s first in-person class, the Visitor Assistance Program course for USACE park rangers, said Elam.
“This class was able to have their leadership from Headquarters in DC give them briefings via WebEx,” he said. “At Bevill, they would have had to schedule one of the VTC (video teleconferencing capability) rooms with leadership, but now they can just pull it up right from their desks.”
The new center also includes eight “huddle rooms,” collaborative spaces where classes can split into smaller groups to complete projects or study based on their individual needs. A tablet computer is posted on the outside of each room for scheduling and communicating upcoming events. For more informal gatherings, students can go to any one of the numerous communal spaces spread throughout the facility.
Within walking distance or a short drive from the Learning Center are a hotel, multiple restaurants and a coffee shop, providing out-of-town students and instructors with all of the conveniences needed to live comfortably away from home. The center also has a dining area with concessions for students to purchase, and food trucks arrive daily with a variety of lunch options.
These amenities have a tremendous impact on the student experience, as well as the quality of learning, said Jonathan Carlisle, Northwest Division’s natural resource program manager and lead instructor for the USACE Visitor Assistance Program. He travels from Portland, Oregon, to Huntsville at least three times each year to lead the weeklong training and attended more than 40 classes, either as a student or as an instructor, at the center’s old location.
“Personally, being on the Arsenal and having everything close by is so much more convenient,” he said. “It also helps to make sure that students are on time for class, which is really important for decreasing interruptions.”
Prior to COVID-19, the center trained about 10,000 students each year, with more than half of those attending class in a traditional classroom setting. Though the USACE Learning Center is currently only offering in-person training for mission-critical courses, Elam said he hopes to soon fill all four of the center’s large classrooms with students.
“The better trained your people are, the more ready you are to successfully complete the operations,” said Elam. “This new facility allows for more effective training for even more students, so it will have a huge impact on USACE as a whole.”
The Learning Center is also equipped to handle large conferences and seminars outside of the ULC’s standard catalog, said Elam. In August, the center will host the annual USACE Safety Officer’s meeting. Nearly 100 safety officers from across the Corps are expected to attend in person, while the remaining will participate via WebEx.
Building 100 Secured Gateway is part of Redstone Gateway, a mixed-use development near Gate 9 geared towards government contractors and research firms. The 250,000-square-foot building, located in the secured section of the Gateway that sits behind the gate, houses approximately 1,400 employees from the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, the FBI, USACE, and Finance Centers.
For more information about the USACE Learning Center and its 200-plus course offerings, visit ulc.usace.army.mil.