With construction slated for two new technology-focused buildings, Berea College is embarking on a technology future like no other, a future that is inclusive of everyone while attempting to solve humanity’s most pressing technological issues.

The combination of technology, the liberal arts, and practical hands-on experience for our underserved student population will have implications for Appalachia and beyond as our capable students continue to access technological fields and careers.

On June 10, we broke ground on the first of two new buildings that will better serve students eying careers in the tech-related fields of the future. The first building, which will be home to computer science, digital media and information technology, is planned for completion in the spring of 2024. The second building, with construction to follow in 2025, will house engineering technologies and applied design, including sculpture and ceramics.

Together, the two buildings will replace the Danforth Technology Building, which was constructed in 1958 and can no longer meet the needs of a modern technology curriculum.

With computer science becoming the most popular major on campus, the need for new facilities was apparent. Both new buildings will be constructed to meet the curricular needs of the present and future, feature transparent classrooms where students can see technology learning on display and spacious labs and studios and maker spaces that stimulate creativity and problem-solving.

These new buildings will serve our untypical population of students, all of whom come from backgrounds usually underrepresented in technology fields. Nearly all of our students are from low-income families (98% qualify for Pell Grants); nearly 60% of them of first-generation college students; 45% are of color; and nearly three-quarters of them are from Kentucky and/or Appalachia.

We have a great track record of sending our graduates on to careers in technology, despite the lack of diversity typical in that industry.

That’s important as we seek to build a technology future that is inclusive of everyone regardless of gender, race, or economic background. The average starting salary is nearly $60,000 in the tech sector, so that these careers are instrumental in advancing the social mobility of the students we serve, who come from households making on average half that amount annually.

Also important is the integration of the liberal arts, learning and labor. Our students do not just learn to be adept coders, their liberal arts education enables them to see the ethical dimensions of the technologies they are advancing.

We believe what higher education leader Randy Bass has said about the future of technology and post-secondary education: that as machines get better and better at being machines, the best thing that higher education can do is teach humans to become better at being human.

In addition, through Berea’s Labor Program, which requires all students to work for the college, most computer science majors work in Berea’s IT program, which allows them to apply what they learn in the classroom in real-world settings, adding significant practical learning to their academic program.

As always, the Berea College motto — God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth —drives our efforts to build a technological future that includes everyone, that attempts to solve human problems, and presents a new age for Appalachia.

These two new buildings represent a faithful investment in our students and in Kentucky and the Appalachian region.