When 12-year-old Hailey Meyer, a student from Belair K-8 School in Richmond County, walked into the new 30,000-square-foot Junior Achievement Discovery Center of the CSRA off Riverwatch Parkway during its opening week, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
“It was really fun,” said Meyer, whose favorite subject is social studies and hopes to grow up to be a judge one day. “In class, we learned about doing voting registration cards. We had to do the voting registration cards to vote who was going to be mayor of the city.”
“And here at the JA Discovery Center, I was a CFO of a company,” Meyer added. “I had a really good experience here at JA BizTown.”
Approximately 15,000 local middle school students each year will learn valuable life skills, such as financial literacy and career readiness, in an entertaining and interactive environment, thanks to the development of a new Junior Achievement Discovery Center in Evans.
Augusta University teamed up as a community partner with Junior Achievement of Georgia and the local school districts in Richmond and Columbia counties to help teach future generations ways they can succeed in a global economy.
John Hancock, president and CEO of JA of Georgia, said when he initially began discussing the possibility of the JA Discovery Center being constructed in the Augusta area, one of the first suggestions for a community partner was Augusta University.
“Junior Achievement’s purpose is to give young people a window into their futures through authentic real-world experiences that fuel their fascination, make their worlds come alive and become bigger than they were before they were with us,” Hancock said during the grand opening of the JA Discovery Center on Jan. 11. “The promise of education is to prepare the youngest of our citizens for choice-filled lives, where they may thrive filled with hope and aspiration, pursuing the potential of who they may become. The responsibility of that lies with all of us.”
Augusta University serves as one of 18 community partners in the JA Discovery Center, along with other businesses, local governments and organizations including Delta Air Lines, Publix, United Way, the Community Foundation of the Central Savannah River Area, SRP Federal Credit Union, Jim Hudson Lexus, Georgia Power, Chick-fil-A, Augusta Technical College, Augusta-Richmond County and Columbia County.
Each of the community partners has a “storefront” inside the facility’s simulation space. The JA Discovery Center will provide students with two innovative programs called JA BizTown for sixth-grade students and JA Finance Park for seventh-grade students.
Tina Baggott, associate vice president for Augusta University’s Volunteer Services and Community Engagement, said building strong relationships with community partners has always been a part of the university’s mission. She said Augusta University proudly put together a “dream team” to develop and design the AU storefront.
“This amazing team of AU collaborators and innovators came together to design a storefront concept that would truly be ‘like no other,’” Baggott said. “We were fortunate to have engaged representation from Innovation, the Department of Art and Design, architecture, graphic design, marketing, education and even the Center for Instructional Innovation. Every member of the team contributed to the final design and programming components, leveraging their unique skills and expertise. The goal of this partnership is to engage CSRA middle school students with higher education options while introducing them to Augusta University, often for the first time. We wanted our storefront design to leave a positive, lasting impression on these students and I believe our team knocked it out of the park.”
Baggott said she is also excited that the JA Discovery Center will be able to offer wonderful service-learning opportunities to Augusta University students who will be volunteering to work in the center.
“These types of experiences help our students reinforce classroom concepts by providing practical experiences in real life settings,” Baggott said. “It also supports our JA partners by ensuring that they have the volunteer support needed to run their simulation programming each day. It truly is a win-win partnership, and we look forward to strengthening this relationship in the years to come.”
Sergio Gallardo, creative director for Communications and Marketing at Augusta University, said his main goal in the storefront was to allow students entering Augusta University’s space to visually see the different career pathways they could follow in the future.
“Visiting the finished Augusta University storefront at the Junior Achievement Discovery Center’s ribbon cutting was a proud moment for me,” Gallardo said. “It was an honor to get to design a space that may help to plant a seed of inspiration in students across the CSRA. Its bright, colorful photographs and graphics help to display what a pathway to success could look like as a student at Augusta University and hopefully will impact local students for years to come.”
As he walked around Augusta University’s storefront, Gallardo could feel the energy and enthusiasm of the guests as they interacted with the space and took pictures with the new statue of the university’s mascot Augustus.
“I wanted the time these students got to spend in that space to create core memories for them that would help to motivate them to become whatever they dream they could be,” Gallardo said. “I think we may have succeeded with this storefront.”
“It was an honor to get to design a space that may help to plant a seed of inspiration in students across the CSRA. Its bright, colorful photographs and graphics help to display what a pathway to success could look like as a student at Augusta University and hopefully will impact local students for years to come.”Sergio Gallardo, the creative director for Communications and Marketing at Augusta University
“Our Creative Director Sergio Gallardo was instrumental in the concept and, of course, the design work,” Lamb said. “Once we added in our statue and collaborated with our campus departments to include some digital elements, we knew we were going to have a special place for the students and community to enjoy. Hopefully, we can build some future Jaguars out of this amazing installation.”
Both Richmond County Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Bradshaw, EdD, and Columbia County Superintendent of Schools Steve Flynt, EdD, said this entire project would not be possible without the support of the community partners.
“The students are going to go through this program and interact with businesses. They’re going to see volunteers. They’re going to learn about entrepreneurship and finance,” Flint said. “I mean, how great is it that they’re going to learn about it from our greater community across the entire CSRA.”
Bradshaw, who credited Flint with suggesting both counties team up to make the new JA Discovery Center a reality, said he was overwhelmed when he saw the students’ reaction to the center.
“I had an opportunity today to be present when the bus stopped in front of JA, the students gathered in the auditorium and the door was closed before we exposed them to a simulated economy,” Bradshaw said. “When they saw all the storefronts, they were blown away. At that point, I wanted to personally pick up the phone and call every one of my board members, the mayor, the county commissioners and everyone who has a storefront to say thank you. Thank you so much for making our vision a reality. Thank you so much for investing in both school systems.”