Last week, we shared with you that we are officially opening enrollment for our full-time, immersive courses in Charlotte, N.C. Today, we want to introduce you to our Charlotte Campus Director Wes Lawson. Wes came to us with over a decade of experience in the education field, and we’re thrilled to have him representing us in the Queen City. We recently sat down with him to find out more about his passions, his experience and what makes him excited for the future.
Where were you before The Iron Yard?
I had been with Wake Forest University School of Business as an Assistant Director for the Integrative Student Services Center of Excellence for two years. Before that, I was Associate Dean of Students for Hampden-Sydney College for a few years. When a prior colleague and student of mine – Watson Mulkey – started working for The Iron Yard, I became intrigued. We had traveled to Honduras together and I was excited to see him in his new role. I did some reading about it and thought it was the most unique thing in education that I had seen. Having spent my entire career in education, the opportunity to do something different, but also to start a campus, is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is how we need to be approaching economic development and education, and revitalizing how we can help people propel themselves forward.
What is it about Charlotte that makes it ready for The Iron Yard?
I end up quoting the Chamber of Commerce here a lot, but it’s hard to deny – Charlotte has got a lot. The true stalwarts are here. The banks that have good days and bad days – they’re not going away. They’re powerhouses. Startups are also doing really well in Charlotte. All these big financial companies are great, and then you have an engineering sector that is humongous. There’s tons of stuff going on with healthcare. There is so much energy here around how technology can make those things better; how technology in schools can be better, all these little things. That stuff is happening here. There are really a lot of talented people who are taking some great risks here and making big strides. Mecklenburg County is the fastest growing county in North Carolina. This is where the action is in North Carolina right now.
Talk a little about what you are looking forward to in your role as Campus Director.
This is one of the few roles, probably one of the few businesses, where we can essentially partner with anybody and everybody if our values align. We aren’t here to compete with people, we’re here to enable them. Working with startups here at Packard Place and hearing them talk about some of their problems and what they are excited about is amazing. We’re able to partner with almost all of them, either to provide students or graduates or interns or help with a case study or bounce ideas off of; so that’s been a lot of fun.
I’m also excited about working with and getting to know all of the different hiring partners and Advisory Board members here. When people hear about what we are doing, how we do it and that we are engaging students early and often, they realize this is really a strong and caring institution. It’s not a 12-week mill out to make a buck. We are invested in our students. People get really excited about that and it sort of validates why we get out of bed every day. That’s a lot of fun!
So as you’re out talking to people, what sparks the most interest in The Iron Yard?
For some people, it’s eye-opening to learn how real the hiring needs are and that The Iron Yard exists. It creates a moment of, “we really need that here!” This city is too big not to have The Iron Yard. For others, you can almost see them give a sigh of relief. They realize they can innovate and get ahead their competition, or even lead their industries once they have access to our grads. They know our grads will be supported and are going to develop grit. They will be ready to take feedback and build things. From the hiring standpoint, they keep asking if we can start sooner.
It’s sort of like your entire life you had concentrate orange juice and then you get fresh squeezed.
What’s it like to be part of the Iron Yard’s Campus Director team?
It feels surreal. When I applied, I read the mission statement several times and thought that it was a great document. But I wondered if it was real. Plenty of organizations have great mission statements they use as a touchstone, but it’s never really lived out. I’ve never experience people as energetic and positive and supportive and collaborative as I have here at The Iron Yard. I have probably met fewer than 10 people in person, but we communicate through Skype and Slack, and are bouncing ideas back and forth at a rapid pace. This is the best place to work. It’s been phenomenal.
Anything else you want to add?
Coming from the traditional education industry, I feel like this approach to education needs to get out there into the sunlight. People need to know about this. It is transformative. I’ve seen that already just from the people I’ve come into contact with. It just makes sense.