Fulfilling needs and dreams in East Topeka

Tall and proud: The new Washburn Tech East campus strikes feelings of awe at first sight. A large brick chimney which was once used for an on-campus boiler was chosen to remain as a physical memory of Washburn Tech's history.

Kodee Christensen

A desire of many years in the making has been brought to fruition through the opening of Washburn Tech East on Friday, June 21. Long before the ground-breaking in March of 2018, the Topeka East community had been dreaming of something exactly like this. The new campus brings opportunities and resources to a community that otherwise was just out of reach from such things.

“It’s really beneficial to the students who live on this side of town,” said Washburn Tech director Chaz Havens. “Previously the students would have to take a two-hour bus ride to go from their house to Washburn Tech on the Huntoon campus. So by the time you even got to school, you’re exhausted. Now, we have students who can walk here, ride their bikes. It’s helped out tremendously.”

Having spent the previous semester at Antioch Family Life Center, students and staff are thankful to be at the brand-new campus. The campus is already halfway to their goal of 400 students enrolled per year, with an anticipated 30 more students coming to new student orientation this week.

“The city of Topeka did a feasibility study when we first started, and they found that the largest concentration of non-HS/GED citizens were in the 66605 and 66607 zip code, which is right here,” Havens said. “So that was one reason why we put the campus over here is to be able to be in the neighborhood and help more people attain those degrees.”

Some of the programs offered at Washburn Tech East are CNA, CMA, HHA, carpentry, CDL, ESL and GED. The GED program can be paired with the AOK Pathway, which allows students to easily transfer from GED classes into career pathways for a reduced price at Washburn University. The carpentry program is partnering with SENT, or Strengthening and Empowering Neighbors Together through the High Crest community to help build houses.

Students Christopher Gallegos and Rafaela Rodriguez who are both pursuing their GED at Washburn Tech have been encouraged by the installment of the new campus.

“I live two blocks down the street,” Gallegos said. “It means a lot because there’s really not a lot of things like this for people to attend on this side of town, so it gives people a better opportunity to see what’s out there and achieve whatever goal they have.”

Gallegos plans to finish his GED in December then continue his education in auto tech classes in January.

“After I get my GED, maybe I will do interior design,” Rodriguez said, who is also taking English as a Second Language courses. “The colors in the new building are very nice; I like the grey and blue. Having the new campus I think is really powerful. It gives people a chance to come here and learn a lot of things.”

Interim dean of Washburn Tech, Gerald Bayens, is among the staff who have been able to observe the results of similar thoughts in Washburn Tech students.

“Watching students walk through the doors of this new facility is such a gratifying part of our jobs at Washburn Tech,” Bayens said. “Many of these students now have easier access to educational opportunities that will change their lives. Enrollment is growing daily, and we are thrilled to be a neighbor in the East Topeka community.”

Washburn Tech East extends their gratitude to the Topeka community and their partners who have donated or supported the new campus in any way, such as GO Topeka, Shawnee County, JEDO, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and more. Partners GO Topeka and JEDO donated $5.5 million to the completion of Washburn Tech East.

“I’m glad that we’re finally able to fulfill the dream that’s been going on for this community for the last 10 years or more,” said Havens.

Edited by Adam White, Jessica Galvin, Shelby Hanson