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Construction Students Motivated by Meaningful Projects

SouthWest Edgecombe High School students in Edgecombe Community College’s construction class built agility obstacles for the college’s K-9 training program.

At Edgecombe Community College, Kevin Strickland’s students are putting it all together.

“Most students like hands-on projects,” says Strickland, who teaches autobody and construction at ECC and at SouthWest Edgecombe High School. “They want to come early and stay late. It helps them stay motivated.”

That motivation has resulted in a spate of student-built construction projects that have enhanced life around the ECC campus and in the Edgecombe County community itself.

The projects completed by Strickland’s students include:

  • Four storage sheds, measuring 8’ by 12’. Two are currently in use at ECC, one was sold on the website, and another is awaiting its purpose. One is used for fire and EMS storage and was the first project for ECC’s Construction Academy after it began in January 2021 “during the harsh times of covid,” Strickland says. “When you start something, the very first is special.”
  • A 288-square-foot cooking shed behind Building C on the Tarboro campus to be used for cookouts and other college functions.
  • An ADA-accessible shelter/deck and outside teaching area, plus ramp, at the rear of the Edgecombe Early College High School building on the Tarboro campus. The deck covers 1,360 square feet, 460’ of which is covered. Strickland’s SouthWest Edgecombe students helped on the project by day while Construction Academy students worked on it in the evenings.
  • A K-9 police dog training center for the college’s law enforcement in-service training program. Agility obstacles arranged on a field at the back of the Tarboro campus were built by SouthWest Edgecombe students and have meant “a big savings for the school,” Strickland says.
  • ECC’s Christmas parade floats, done in a “Santa’s Workshop” log cabin motif. The floats appeared at the 2022 Pinetops and Tarboro parades and in 2023 in Pinetops (Tarboro’s 2023 parade was canceled due to bad weather). The 2023 edition was modified to include a smoke machine and piping, creating a working chimney, and took home third place in Pinetops.

ECC Construction Academy students built a “dogdominium” and donated it to a raffle to benefit Relay for Life.

In April, the Construction Academy brought its latest creation – a “dogdominium” for pooches – to the SkillsUSA NC competition in Greensboro. The students donated their finished product for a raffle to benefit Relay for Life. Tickets are available to purchase by contacting

The student collaborations have saved the college “$50,000 or more,” Strickland says. An instructor at ECC for 25 years, he has about 15 students in the Construction Academy, which holds its classes in the evening. Daytime classes are being considered as the program grows, he adds.

But it’s not just about the savings. Academy classes help many of its students find their career path in construction or related fields. “The projects have really made some of them say, ‘Yes, that’s what I want to do for a living,’” Strickland explains.

The Construction Academy welcomes learners of all ages. “We’ve had everyone from recent high school graduates to people in their 80s,” he says.

At SouthWest Edgecombe, where Strickland teaches 12 to 15 students, “It helps a lot of students start pride in what they do,” he explains. “I love teaching the high school students, seeing them grow and develop and change. This helps them see things in a different light.”

That different light was in evidence last Christmas. According to Strickland, one of the students said, “We really need to do something for kids who don’t have anything.” The result was 75 hand-built gumball machines that were donated to area churches, foster care facilities, and the like.

“That really helped the kids have a different take on things,” he adds. “They put extra pride into those gumball machines.”