Courtney Day

Zoology 121, or “Environmental Biology,” is the first class taught at the Voice of America Learning Center after its opening Monday, Jan. 12.

Miami University history was made Monday as the Voice of America Learning Center (VOA) opened its doors for its first classes.

The new facility is the next chapter in Miami’s 200-year history.

“Oxford was the new frontier in 1809,” said Rod Nimtz, VOA’s director. “Now, in 2009, the Voice of America Learning Center is the new frontier.”

Nimtz said he is enthusiastic about what the new learning center means for Miami in its Bicentennial year.

“(The VOA) brings together some of the best elements from the regional campuses and from the Oxford location,” Nimtz said.

According to Nimtz, the VOA, which has been in the making for over a decade, houses undergraduate courses and a master’s in education, as well as alumni career services.

The center will also offer a professional MBA program through the Farmer School of Business in fall 2009. Nimtz said the planned MBA program is already attracting attention and inquiries from local businesses and professionals.

Because of its location just off I-75 in West Chester, the VOA attracts non-traditional students who are working and attending classes part-time. The average age of students at the center is 27, and 29 percent of the student population is over the age of 30, according to Nimtz.

This semester, 359 students are enrolled at the VOA, including 267 undergraduate and 92 graduate students. A total of 27 courses are offered during spring 2009 in a variety of fields, such as education, English and psychology, according to Nimtz.

Over the past few months, the VOA staff have been preparing for the start of classes.

Nimtz said that much of the recent preparation has been related to mechanical aspects and environmental systems. The wiring and the phone system had to be put in place and the final details-including everything down to the placement of the mailbox-had to be completed.

Additionally, Nimtz said the center held open houses and a press conference and offered assessment testing for students prior to the start of the semester.

Nimtz said the new facility is lightly staffed, with only five staff members at the center full time. The rest of the staff members are from Miami’s regional campuses.

The first class at the center was Zoology 121, an environmental biology class taught by Brian Keane, associate professor of zoology from Miami’s Hamilton campus.

“With the exception of the new building and IT stuff, teaching at the new learning center is no different from teaching at the other campuses,” Keane said.

Keane said his favorite part of the VOA is the setup of the classroom, which includes movable furniture and new technology.

He said his students seem to be mostly traditional college-age students and he also has a few high school students enrolled in post-secondary courses.

According to Nimtz, Monday was a “fantastic” first day of classes.

Nimtz said that with the exception of a few minor technology glitches that were quickly addressed, the first day ran smoothly.

“We haven’t run across a problem that can’t be fixed,” he said.

Because the center sits on 20 acres given to the university as a grant from the federal government and money had been set aside for the building starting 12 years ago, the VOA has not been greatly affected by the university’s budget crisis.

Enrollment is on track with the university’s projections for the spring semester and is expected to grow for the start of the new academic year and the launch of the professional MBA program in fall 2009.