Hooks Institute Turns Office Renovation into Hands-On Learning Opportunity

hooks institute renovation

Nov 14, 2023 — With hard hats and T squares at the ready, students from the University of Memphis are taking part in a unique learning opportunity offered by the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change.

INVITATION TO COVER: Media outlets are invited to the final hard hat tour, which will be from 3-4 p.m. this Thursday, Nov. 16. If you would like to take part for a news story, please let Jennifer Godwin know before noon on Thursday.

Renovations under the management of RKA Construction and A2H Engineers Architects and Planners are currently underway at the Institute’s new offices on the 11th floor of Wilder Tower.

Experts from the two companies have worked alongside Hooks Institute staff to develop an educational module to leverage this process as an on-site, experiential learning opportunity for University of Memphis students. Participants include members of the Hooks Institute’s student success programs as well as students from the Herff College of Engineering.

Over the course of four learning sessions, students are invited to review the official plans and drawings for the space, learn about construction project management, the local and state permitting process, and visit the renovation site during two hard hat tours.  Those students who complete three of the four sessions will receive a special certificate from the Hooks Institute and its corporate partners.

"It was an eye-opening experience, seeing how places I see every day are constructed. It demystified construction and architecture for me, and I am grateful to have had this experience,” said Adeel Khawaja, an engineering student at UofM and program participant.

“As anyone who has gone through a renovation knows, it is a learning experience. [Hooks Institute] Executive Director Daphene McFerren and the Hooks staff wanted to find a meaningful way to share this journey with participants in our student success programs and the University at large,” said Amy Ruggaber, strategic partnerships consultant for the Hooks Institute and manager of the program. “There are many good jobs available through the construction industry that utilize all kinds of skills, and we wanted to highlight that. We were so pleased when RKA and A2H agreed to help us turn the renovation itself into a learning experience.”

“We [at RKA Construction] are thrilled to be renovating the 11th Floor of Wilder Tower for the Hooks Institute and helping to advance the mission of the Hooks Institute," said Patrick Johnston. "An added bonus is that RKA is helping to teach the UofM engineering students and students from the Hooks Institute programs about the construction process as the project progresses. This training will help students develop workforce experiences which will ultimately benefit not only the students but employers like RKA in their futures in the construction and engineering industries."

“UofM engineering students and students enrolled in the Hooks African American Male Initiative (HAAMI) and A Seat at the Table are learning from the design created by A2H," said Logan Meeks, former board chair of the Hooks Institute's advisory board and president of A2H. "These UofM students will have a head start in understanding the diverse careers that exist in architecture, engineering, and construction, and that he hopes students will be inspired to consider careers in these fields." 

“This has really exposed my mind to more engineering out there in the real world,” agreed Michael Swafford, a program participant who is also a part of HAAMI.

Student Aleks Vincent appreciated the program for opening his eyes to different career possibilities. “I went into Mechanical Engineering not really knowing a lot of career possibilities, but now with this [program] I know just how involved construction really is and how detailed everything is.”

A2H team members Lisa Starzynski, Ryan Coopwood and Phillip Haynes are leading their portion of the program while RKA is represented by Johnston, Kat Gates, Sean Dial and Ann Cooper.

“This program is so unique, and it means that the generous support provided by our donors for the renovation goes beyond the brick-and-mortar transformation, also providing an educational component for our students,” Ruggaber said. 



Jennifer Godwin

Director of Media and Public Relations


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About the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change 

The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute implements its mission of teaching, studying, and promoting civil rights and social change through research, education and direct intervention programs. Institute programs include community outreach; funding faculty research initiatives on community issues; implementing community service projects; hosting conferences, symposiums and lectures; and promoting local and national scholarship on civil and human rights. The Hooks Institute is an interdisciplinary center at the University of Memphis. Contributed revenue for the Hooks Institute, including funding from individuals, corporations and foundations, is administered through the University of Memphis Foundation, a 501c(3) organization. Visit memphis.edu/benhooks for more information. 

About RKAFormed in 2011, RKA is a general contractor located in Memphis, Tennessee. Created out of a love for building and a desire to provide a better client experience, our focus is simple— provide superior quality, craftsmanship, and customer service in everything we do. We're all about craftsmanship, customer service, and a team-driven approach, backed by a deep bench of skilled professionals. Transparency is at the core of our core values as we believe in clear communication and openness throughout the construction process. Our goal is not only to create a beautiful product, but to create an exceptional experience for everyone involved and to be a positive force in the communities we serve.

About A2HA2H is a collaborative planning and design firm of architects, engineers, landscape architects, and interior designers. Originally founded in Memphis in 1986, the firm now has over 100 employees and multiple offices across Tennessee and North Mississippi. Our firm and its staff are guided by the fact that intentional, purposeful design has the power to enhance the world around us. A2H provides a diverse range of consulting services for both public and private clients, with projects from a wide range of markets, including: Civic, Commercial, Education, Healthcare, Hospitality, Industrial, Infrastructure, Placemaking, Recreation, and Transportation.

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