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State Farm donates $1M to new EV lab at Heartland Community College

Bright green grass and blue skies with puffy clouds frame a construction site with partially erected building and fencing surrounding.
Lauren Warnecke
Heartland Community College predicts the newly-named State Farm Electric Vehicle Lab will be finished in time for classes next semester.

Nearly a year after breaking ground on a new electric vehicle training center, Heartland Community College is getting a big financial boost from State Farm.

The newly-named State Farm Electric Vehicle Lab replaces an off-site location currently leased by the college. The million-dollar donation, announced Tuesday, chips away at the project’s $17.5 million dollar price tag. The state of Illinois previously contributed $7.5 million toward the construction project.

In addition to the electric vehicle lab, the 45,000-square-foot renovation and addition to Heartland's Student Commons Building on the Normal campus will house new facilities for the college's welding, HVAC, robotics and digital media programs.

Dean Adam Campbell oversees Heartland's Career and Technical Education programs. He joined the college as associate dean of career and tech ed in 2021 and was named dean in May.

An artist's rendering of the new State Farm Electric Vehicle Lab at Heartland Community College
Heartland Community College
An artist's rendering of the new State Farm Electric Vehicle Lab at Heartland Community College.

“I love coming into work every day and I love the people we work with,” Campbell said in an interview. Prior to Heartland, he was senior assistant director for Private Business and Vocational Schools at the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Campbell’s purview includes a two-year associate's degree in electric vehicle technology and four certificate programs related to the manufacturing and maintenance of electric vehicles.

“Students are going to realize it’s not just about turning a wrench, working on a car,” he said. “There is that element, too, but there’s going to be so much more to this industry.”

Center of campus

Perhaps the most important value of the new building is its location in the center of Heartland Community College’s campus.

“Students coming in will have direct access to services here on grounds and feel like they’re part of the campus community,” said Campbell. “That’s not to diminish what we’re doing off campus, but it is a different feel.”

Immediate access to tutoring, library and other services on campus will enhance the support structures for students in the program. And with close proximity to Rivian, Heartland’s EV students have unprecedented access to parts and internship opportunities with the Normal electric vehicle manufacturer.

While HCC enjoys a partnership with Rivian, Campbell describes the program as “brand agnostic.” In fact, many students have chosen to complete internships with other companies.

“We don’t just train students to work on Rivians,” said Campbell. “We have also provided access to General Motors technology. We have a fully electric Fiat 500 that students interact with.”

The program now has morning, midday and evening class options, providing attractive schedule options for high school graduates, workers exploring a second career and traditional automotive technicians looking to “upskill” with electric vehicles. Heartland recently expanded childcare services into evening hours so working parents can more easily attend night classes.

Skills gained translate to working in electric and conventional service centers and dealerships that are seeing an uptick in electric vehicle customers. Program graduates also are equippped to support infrastructure projects such as installing EV charging stations. Collaboration with robotics and other programs in Career and Technical Education could potentially transpire as virtual reality simulators for students learning how to work on high voltage batteries, for example.

“I think we as Heartland have demonstrated that we can generate quality, skilled students to come into the workforce — whether that’s for Rivian or another company,” Campbell said.

Others agree.

State and national officials have taken note of central Illinois leading the way on new modes of energy storage. Gov. JB Pritzker, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth have made visits and expressed enthusiasm for rebranding the “Rust Belt."

There's proof in the numbers, too. More than 40 students are enrolled in the EV program this fall — a nearly five-fold increase in just two years. This week, a new full-time faculty member came on board to direct the program.

“Everything is trending up,” Campbell said.

Importantly, the curriculum remains flexible as the technology rapidly evolves.

“The future of this program—it’s best days are ahead,” said Campbell. “What it’s going to look like two years from now is not what it looks like today.”

New transfer agreement

Also announced Tuesday, HCC adopted a transfer agreement with Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The deal allows students with associate’s degrees from Heartland Community College to complete their bachelor’s degrees at SIU remotely.

The Saluki Step Ahead program has pathways for transfer students studying accounting, business, criminal justice, education, history, industrial management and applied engineering, and several healthcare-related occupations, including nursing.

Students in the program can complete coursework online at a reduced tuition price, provided they are full-time students in good academic standing.

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Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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