Innovation, Collaboration, and Community: Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center Opens in Downtown Waterloo

posted on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 in  College News

Senada Covic didn’t speak English when she arrived in the U.S. from Bosnia three years ago. Learning a new language was “scary and confusing” at first, but she worked hard and regularly attended English Language Learning (ELL) classes at the Hawkeye Community College Metro Center.

“When I came to the Metro Center I felt better and more confident,” she said. “I came to school every day and improved   my English.”

As her skills grew, so did her ambitions. She enrolled in a workplace technology course that taught computer skills alongside language. By the end, she had earned a Microsoft Office certificate and found a job as an associate for Waterloo Schools. Soon, she will begin a course on Google Suite, and ultimately plans to enter a business program on Hawkeye’s main campus.

Covic is just one of thousands of individuals across the Cedar Valley who have sought to better their lives through adult education programs at Hawkeye Community College. Now, with the opening of the Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center in downtown Waterloo, even more stories like hers will be possible.

The three-story, 45,000-square-foot center is the first major construction project funded by a $25 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2015. It combines the programs formerly housed at Hawkeye’s Metro Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Center, and provides the capacity to serve more than 4,000 individuals a year.

“Space was very limited at both the Metro and MLK centers,” said Sandy Jensen, director of the Van. G. Miller Adult Learning Center. “Programming we thought was only a dream is now being offered at this center.”

The center offers the same programs once held at the Metro Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Center, including ELL, High School Completion, U.S. citizenship, adult basic education, and Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST). The Senior Companion and Family Literacy programs are also located at the new center.

The new building also provides new opportunities. Most notable is Mac’s Place, the center’s new café and coffee shop. Named in recognition of the R. J. McElroy Trust, Mac’s Place will provide an authentic work-based learning space for English language learners to practice their skills. Hawkeye’s Hospitality Management program is also based at the center, and Mac’s Place will give students real-world experience with menu planning, pricing, management, and more.

“The students will get to do inventory controls, make the food we serve, and learn the point-of-sale system from a real working view,” said Ashley Gracia, program advisor.

The Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center was built with an eye toward innovation, especially with regard to partnerships aimed at better serving the community. The child development center, for example, is a partnership between Hawkeye and Exceptional Persons, Inc. (EPI).

“There is a critical shortage of quality childcare in the Cedar Valley,” said Dr. Linda Allen, president of Hawkeye Community College. “This arrangement is a wonderful example of how community partnerships can be an effective way to accomplish goals together.”

Technology is also key to innovation, and the center includes several Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) classrooms that allow instructors to better integrate technology into classroom learning.

“I teach computer skills in a TEAL classroom, which has greatly increased my ability to integrate current technology into all of my lessons,” said Tara Plouff, an ELL instructor at the center. The ELL program has two TEAL classrooms, effectively doubling the capacity for infusing technology into instruction.

Though there are new projects and initiatives to be excited about at the Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center, the core mission remains the same: to remove barriers for students and prepare them to be productive and successful members of the community.

“This wonderful downtown location connects Hawkeye to the community we serve more strongly than ever,” Jensen said. “It will bring greater awareness of adult education and the diversity and strength it brings to our community.”


  1. Adult Basic Education (ABE)
  2. Adult Education Center
  3. Adult Literacy
  4. Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center
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