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New CCEC lab promotes hands-on learning

ww gay
W.W. Gay prides himself on his work experience.

It was more than 60 years ago when he got his break in the mechanical contracting industry, working part-time while he attended college just so he could get his foot in the door. Those early experiences weren’t easy, but Gay said they paid dividends later, granting him the knowledge and the drive to continually move up in his field.

“That’s what counts out there — the work experience,” Gay said. “You have to work to get what you want. Now, we’re giving students the opportunities to get that experience themselves.”

Gay’s company, Jacksonville-based W.W. Gay Mechanical Contractor, Inc., recently made a $50,000 donation to the University of North Florida’s College of Computing, Engineering and Construction to create a state-of-the-art teaching lab that will mimic real-world work experiences for students.

Dr. Mark Tumeo, dean of the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, said the gift will be spread out over the course of five years and will provide for all of the equipment in the teaching laboratory, which is located in the Science and Engineering Building.

It’s not the first institutional gift from W.W. Gay. The company previously provided funding for an on-campus thermal fluid lab, and Tumeo said the new facility is a perfect complement to the existing lab.

“The purpose of the new lab is to give our construction and engineering students a real, hands-on learning experience with installations and designs in the construction process,” he said. “This lab will give them the chance to design and manage an installation, have them see the effects and touch the results. It’s a truly multi-faceted approach to learning that gives UNF students a full understanding of the process, and that’s something W.W. Gay has stressed through his company’s contributions — the real practical application of construction and engineering.”

The lab will be broken up into a few different teaching and demonstration modules that allow students to model large-scale electrical, HVAC and plumbing work that might be needed in the field. Tumeo said the lab will give students a full perspective of the construction process — from scheduling orders and estimating cost to design and implementation.

Classes in the lab start in the spring, but Tumeo said all the equipment won’t be installed for at least three or four more years.

Once it’s fully up and running, David Boree, president of W.W. Gay Mechanical Contractor, Inc., said the lab will build off the work experiences students can expect once they enter the industry. He lauded UNF for its commitment to offering academic opportunities to students that reflect the needs of the regional and national markets. It’s a strategy that has paid off for University graduates.

“We’ve hired a number of UNF students, and they always come to us ready to work,” Boree said.

Practicality and professionalism — those are two hallmark of a UNF CCEC education, Tumeo said. With this new lab, he said UNF stacks up favorably next to any computing, construction and engineering program in the country when it comes to student access to cutting edge, industry-standard equipment.

Gay said he’s seen those professional traits exemplified in the UNF students he’s hired throughout the years. There’s simply not much of a learning curve once they come to work, he said.

“UNF students — they catch on quick,” Gay said. “They know what they’re doing. And they’ll learn even more with this new lab. It works for the University, and it works us. We need a trained workforce, and we have one in our backyard.”