A recent ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the renovation of The Ozark Dining Facility at Whiteman Air Force Base not only introduced base personnel and guests to updates on an important food service center, but recognized the partnership between University of Central Missouri students and faculty members who helped make the vision for this redesign project a reality.

UCM students and faculty members representing the university’s Bachelor of Science in Design and Drafting Technology program in the College of Health, Science and Technology were among those attending this special event. The ceremony came approximately one and a half years after students made a formal presentation at UCM for what became a $560,000 redesign of The Ozark Dining Facility. This dining hub primarily serves military personnel who live in base dormitories, providing breakfast, lunch, dinner and a midnight meal seven days a week to an estimated 400 airmen per day.

With a desire to maximize use of this facility by creating a campus-style dining environment, base representatives turned to UCM during the 2021-2022 academic year with an opportunity for students to gain real-life experience by applying knowledge and skills they have acquired through their university coursework.


Five students who worked on the project and went on to earn their Bachelor of Science degrees in Design and Drafting Technology attended the ribbon cutting, Kevin Floresca, Elisabeth Paxton, Melia Rice, Abigail Wilcoxson, and Derek Wildt. They were joined by Lydia Dumont, faculty advisor and instructor; Paul Brown and Gina Eairheart, instructors; Roya Azimzadeh,, Ph.D., coordinator of the Design and Drafting Technology program;  Jeff Robertson, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health, Science and Technology; and David Pearce, executive director for Governmental Relations at UCM.

“Our university takes pride in our students and faculty who possess strong skills in design and drafting technology. We appreciate the real-world learning opportunity for our students to work on the redesign of the Whiteman Air Force Base dining facility and are excited to celebrate the opening of this cafeteria,” Dr. Azimzadeh said when commenting on the successful completion of this project.

She added, “It was a team effort of all individuals and organizations involved with a common goal of making a positive impact on our community. We hope that the personnel from the Air Force base enjoy their new and welcoming environment for eating and relaxing."

”We love it. We absolutely love it,” said Col. Keith Butler, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, during a tour of the facility. “It’s fantastic that we have this opportunity for both UCM and Whiteman, which has had a partnership for years. Everything that Dr. Best (UCM President Roger Best) has been doing to help build this relationship and strengthen it is just wonderful, and this is a prime example of what that is."

Initial steps to launch this project began when Whiteman service members met via Zoom with UCM students who were enrolled in the Advanced Technical Problems in Design and Drafting Technology class taught by Dumont. The students’ involvement began in November 2021 with a tour of the facility, which gave them an opportunity to take measurements that were crucial to the redesign. From there, the students worked for months to plan and develop a proposal that would help address concerns related to the need for functional seating, limiting general noise/reverb, providing stackable chairs and tables with wheels, flooring, windows, installation of noise dampeners, wall art, décor and more. These efforts were followed by the team’s final proposal presented to base personnel, including individuals who operate The Ozark Dining Center, in May 2021.

Melia Rice, a Kansas Citian who graduated in May 2023 and currently works for the engineering and design firm Burns & McDonnell, was among students who helped plan the The Ozark Dining Facility’s redesign. When she returned to the facility on Oct. 5 to celebrate the project’s completion, she was pleased to see how the UCM’s team’s proposal came to life and how it is making a difference within the Whiteman community.

“It’s just kind of surreal to see what it looks like,” she said. “You see pictures of it in your little model on the computer, but to be surrounded by it – your design – is super awesome."

Dean Robertson shared that enthusiasm, noting, “What’s fun is to see most of their (students’) vision implemented in what has occurred. What I remember from that May meeting when they presented to the Air Force was basically this design."

Joining in the ribbon-cutting event, Col. Illya Thomas, commander of the 509th Mission Support Group at Whiteman AFB, spoke about the base’s “fantastic services team” that worked hard to make this facility possible. He also recognized the students’ instrumental role in this project.

“We know that not only services put a lot of effort into it, but this particular project was a community collaboration,” he said, adding that this includes efforts by contractors and many individuals across the base, in addition to outside support that helped bring it together. “That fruition is really the strong efforts of our students at UCM. They did a lot of hard work. They really put time and effort into making this happen."

The project with Whiteman Air Force Base is just one of many ways UCM students and faculty work with area businesses, organizations and communities to provide opportunities for students to gain valuable real-life learning experience while meeting a specific need. Through such projects, students leave the campus not only with a university degree but with job and life skills they can readily apply to their professions and in service to others in many different ways.

In the photo:
University of Central Missouri students, faculty and administrators, along with Whiteman Air Force Base personnel, participated in a ribbon-cutting for The Ozark Dining Center, which underwent a redesign with help from students in the bachelor’s degree program in Design and Drafting Technology. Taking part in the celebratory event were, from left, Abby Wilcoxson, student; Paul Brown, instructor; Gina Eairheart, instructor; Col. Illya Thomas, commander of the 509th Mission Support Group at Whiteman; Derek Wildt, student; Lydia Dumont, instructor and faculty advisor to the program; Dr. Roya Azimzadeh, program coordinator; Kevin Floresca, student; Melia Rice, student; Elisabeth Paxton, student; Dr. Jeff Robertson, dean of the College of Health, Science and Technology; and Airman First Class Samuel Corea.

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