Fine-tuning student success: our plan and how you can help

By J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.

J.D. RottweilerAre you looking for someone to fill an open position at your place of work or business? Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, particularly in rural areas. It’s also a challenge facing employers across America.

Why is that? Recent reports may offer some clues.

At least one concludes that more than 15 percent of individuals ages 16-24 living in Cochise County are neither working nor in school. This parallels measures at the state level – Arizona ranks 47th – and exceeds the national average of 13 percent. The Opportunity Index ( is an annual composite measure at the state and county levels of economic, educational and civic factors that expand opportunity. It also finds that only 33.5 percent of Cochise County adults age 25 and older hold an associate’s degree or higher; according to this indicator, the county population lags behind both Arizona and the U.S.

The index suggests that two people born in similar towns in different states may have very different experiences, while also asking if all children should have access to equal conditions of opportunity. It reports on median income, affordable housing, and poverty; preschool enrollment and higher education achievement; and community safety and disconnected youth.

The index was developed by Opportunity Nation and Measure of America. Opportunity Nation is a national campaign comprised of more than 350 cross-sector organizations working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America. In conjunction with United Way, Measure of America has developed a tool to forecast how things might change in a community if educational outcomes were better.

I used the forecaster at to change the percentage of Cochise County residents who have not completed high school from 14 to 0 percent. The results are significant. It added two years to the average life expectancy, more than halved the murder rate, increased average earnings by some $9,000, reduced the poverty rate by 5 percentage points, decreased unemployment by 3 percentage points, and increased the voting rate by nearly 10 percentage points. This exercise literally moves the needle.

While it might seem farfetched that we will reach 100 percent of residents achieving a high school diploma, we can make progress toward that ideal. Imagine if the percentage of those lacking a diploma were cut in half.

We at Cochise College are very conscious of these statistics, as they highlight areas of educational need that we are positioned to fill. One solution is to enhance student success, and that means everything from how prospective students first interact with the college to how they identify and achieve their goals. This semester, we are working on the details of a cohesive student success effort, some aspects of which are already in place. Our plan includes outreach to schools and a community awareness campaign; streamlined enrollment processes; redesigned developmental education curriculum in math, English and reading; and a student success component that places those who need it in an Academic Success Seminar.

The Cochise College foundation also is implementing an annual fundraising drive to grow support for scholarships. My vision is that there will come a day when there is enough local financial assistance to help every Cochise College graduating high school senior, and to inspire students to achieve that goal.

As you can see, bolstering student success is a multi-faceted effort.

There is a way you can help students and the local workforce in the short term. The foundation is now seeking donations of cash or auction items for a fundraising event – An Evening at the Races – to be held on the Sierra Vista Campus April 29. The event will raise money for scholarships and, we hope, be the first of many annual events that engage the community in celebrating and expanding our efforts. If you’d like to be part of it, contact the foundation at (520) 417-4735.

Despite the challenges, I remain extremely proud of Cochise College, look forward to being able to “move the needle,” and will be eager to report progress on our student success plan to the community.
J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at

Cybersecurity training puts jobs within reach

By J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.

J.D. Rottweiler

As investigations of interference in the U.S. election process make headlines, Cochise College enters its 13th year of educating students in the area of cybersecurity. Later this month, we’ll celebrate what we’ve been able to build by bringing our current cyber students together with industry experts and program graduates for an evening of networking and learning from the pros.

The cybersecurity program Cochise offers today evolved from an information security program that began in 2004. It falls under the computer information systems umbrella, which enrolls more than 1,500 annually and also includes Cisco training; computer maintenance, repair and programming; Linux; networking; and web development. Currently, 185 students have chosen cybersecurity as their major. Graduates have found positions with military contractors and government agencies. They’re often employable after just a few classes.

Graduates will share their experiences and advice in a Jan. 25 cyber event aimed at preparing current cybersecurity students both for their college education and the workplace. Some of them got a foot in the door by participating in auxiliary college cyber activities, which continue today. For example, 200 to 300 local youth annually participate in the Computer Challenge at the Sierra Vista Campus. Through a partnership with AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association), CIS faculty coordinate community volunteers and organize competitions and theory tests in computer fundamentals, information security, programming, digital graphics and desktop publishing, PC repair, speaking, and interviewing.

The college also is actively engaged with the Air Force Association (AFA) CyberPatriot program, in which high school students compete in exercises designed to teach them to remediate technological vulnerabilities. Twenty-eight of Arizona’s 71 CyberPatriot teams – or 40 percent – are trained here at Cochise College.

Important partnerships have helped fund progress in cybersecurity training at Cochise. A National Science Foundation Engineering Pathways Partnership Project grant has funded curriculum redesign with an industry advisory council. A $100,000 Youth CareerConnect Department of Labor grant funded opportunities for Center for Academic Success and Buena High School students taking cyber courses at Cochise. It also helped with the cost of equipment, primarily servers and removable solid-state drives.

In addition to two Sierra Vista Campus cybersecurity classrooms, an additional classroom will soon turn into a dynamic workspace for students to tackle cybersecurity challenges as teams. Students will work in a cyber range to test high-level cyber technologies and in an Internet of Things lab that includes connected devices that seldom are considered when developing a security plan for an organization. Think Amazon Echo devices that are always on and connected and waiting for a voice command.

Finally, Cochise has added a new full-time cybersecurity faculty position recently filled by former Engility Section Manager Mike McLain, who will facilitate the industry panel at the college’s cybersecurity event this month. The industry panel includes representatives from the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) and Fort Huachuca, NCI, Northrop Grumman, Engility and Raytheon, which is now offering a scholarship and internship for transitioning soldiers.

During my time here at Cochise, community and national demand for cybersecurity has increased tremendously and we have made every effort to ensure our cyber students are well-prepared to enter this dynamic space. It’s the passion and expertise of college faculty and staff who have not only helped the institution meet those needs, but also kept the college at the forefront of this increasingly important industry.

J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at

Around every corner, another opportunity

By J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.

J.D. RottweilerIt goes without saying that 2016 has been a memorable year. For the second consecutive cycle, Cochise earned the maximum 10 years of accreditation. The college awarded more than 1,800 degrees and certificates and opened the new Downtown Center. It became an American Welding Society accredited testing facility, renewed its nursing accreditation, and was highlighted numerous times by various entities as a top community college in the U.S.

Donors seeking to help promote student success also made an impact.

Henry Bollweg III, a former Bisbee educator, and Margaret Sessford, a retired civil servant, each left property that the Cochise College Foundation sold to establish scholarships. Hudbay Minerals, APS, Raytheon and A’viands, the college’s food service provider, established new scholarships this year. The college awarded new scholarships provided by the Mexican consulate in Douglas and matched by a state-side donor to students of Mexican descent attending Cochise College. County residents Hal Thomas, Rodney Long and Dr. Karen Nicodemus, Cochise College president emeritus, remembered loved ones recently lost by establishing or redefining charitable donations. Contributions by The Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona and the Wick Family Foundation helped local non-profit leaders attend the Center for Lifelong Learning’s Non-Profit Management Certificate Program. Copper Queen Community Hospital, Lawley Automotive Group, Fairfield Inn & Suites – Sierra Vista, Cafe Roka, The Mall at Sierra Vista, American Southwest Credit Union, Kief-Joshua Vineyards, and retired college president Dr. Dan Rehurek provided in-kind gifts for classroom use or in support of fundraising efforts.

The college inducted its second Hall of Fame class: Mark Battaglia, Cochise College Foundation; the late Ray Levra, long-time art faculty; and Dr. Mary Lee Shelden, retired English faculty and an initiator of many things still in place at the college today. It also lost several individuals with prominent or lengthy connections to the institution. They include Jack Corkery, the first dean of students; Jerry Harwood, widow of the college’s second president; Pat (Pallister) O’Brien, former dean of students who helped bring important lecturers and performers to the college in the 1960s; Sammie Paschal, former director of housing and Eldershostel; George Nicodemus, former women’s basketball coach; Don Johnson, one of the original English faculty members; Ann Kull, former registrar and director of financial aid; Loren Cooper, former motor transport faculty; and Lt. Col. George Hooper, long-time foundation board member.

Cochise College also dealt with challenging issues in 2016, from relocating entire departments to preparing for new labor requirements. Now we have entered budget planning season.

As I reflect on the achievements, supporters, losses and challenges of 2016, I’m heartened to discover that around every turn – new year, new semester, commencement – is a new opportunity to re-visit, re-evaluate and move forward!

With that, I wish all of you a wonderful and restful holiday season.

J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at

By these measures, Cochise College students succeed

By J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.

Cochise College financial aid and transfer metrics may never have been as exciting as when Dr. Verlyn Fick, vice president for instruction/provost, presented these topics at the October Governing Board meeting.

Financial aid has changed significantly since Verlyn began his career in academia, and recent changes at the federal level, as well as diligent adherence to high standards by the college’s Financial Aid Office, under the direction of Karen Emmer, are helping Cochise College students succeed.

Of 67 Arizona community colleges, universities, and private institutions, Cochise College had the sixth lowest default rate on student loans for the 2013 cohort. Its rate was better than those of the three public universities; the next community college on the list ranked 39th. Cochise’s 5.2 percent rate was down from 9.6 percent for the 2012 cohort. Defaulted loans harm the financial future of students. Schools with a default rate of 30 or higher find themselves under scrutiny, which may harm their ability to offer federal financial aid. Our Financial Aid Office protects students’ financial futures, generally advising them to make calculated choices about the finances they already have or can access. In addition, the Financial Aid Office, in partnership with USA Funds, provides opportunities to offer life skills training for students and a mentoring program. The Financial Aid Office implemented a system to help students complete without exceeding federal aid regulations, and educated college and high school personnel and the greater community about the impact of default rates on schools. In just a few years, the Cochise College default rate dropped while the graduation rate increased.

Studies have shown that community college graduates are as likely or more likely to be successful at the university level as native students who begin their studies at the universities. According to recent information, Cochise College students are proving this to be true. The percent of new Cochise College transfers who graduated within two years from an Arizona public university rose from 20 percent for the class of 2007 to 26.7 percent for the class of 2013. In fact, for the Cochise College class of 2012, 53.4 percent of transfers had earned a university degree within three years of transfer, and 64.5 percent earned it within four years of transfer. These percentages are equal to or greater than the state average.

There’s even better news related to Cochise College minority transfer students, whose university graduation rates are equal to or greater than the state average. In fact, Cochise College minority transfers graduate at a higher rate than their non-minority counterparts. The is no achievement gap on this metric. Cochise has always served and treasured our very diverse student population, so we’re pleased to have helped make this possible.

The team of faculty and staff working with students here at Cochise College leads Arizona in these areas, and the college continues to raise the bar, as well as to be an incredible return on investment for both students and the citizens of Cochise County.

J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at

Academy is investment in college future

By J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.

JD RottweilerLeaders are in demand at community colleges across the nation. A study by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) found that 75 percent of survey respondents anticipated retiring within 10 years, and that colleges also could expect significant turnover among senior administrators and faculty.

While progress and innovation are central themes at Cochise College, AACC says that “institutional transformation cannot take place without the development and continual improvement of a college’s leadership.” Recognizing a need for “grow-your-own” programs, AACC developed competencies for community college leadership.

When I joined Cochise College over seven years ago, I was aware that the college anticipated a significant number of retirements in coming years. Retiring employees leave a void, and not only would Cochise College need people willing to pick up the reins, it also needed to provide those individuals with as much information and mentoring as possible to help them do so. According to AACC, “There needs to be deliberate preparation in order to produce leaders with the right competencies, particularly competencies in risk taking and change management.”

Over the course of three days in July, Cochise College hosted a President’s Leadership Academy. Twenty-seven faculty and staff representing a variety of disciplines and departments participated in sessions on defining leadership; communication styles; governance, financial and political topics; and learning from others. Participants also heard from current and former presidents of both rural and urban community colleges. The academy was facilitated by leadership consultant and long-time educator and administrator Dr. Pamila Fisher, who, among other things, helps match colleges and presidents.

Participants learned about each other, considered their personal goals, heard about the successes and challenges of other community college leaders, and evaluated their level of comfort with the concept of leadership. Group sharing led not only to a greater sense of understanding, but also helped build a team of individuals who can turn to each other for advice and greater perspective.

I’m proud that Cochise College chose to make this investment in its future, and the college is fortunate to have leaders at all levels who desire to move the institution forward and improve student success. I can’t say all of the participants will choose to stay with Cochise College forever, as some may choose to pursue their goals elsewhere. In order to help meet demand, the college has, and will continue to provide, training that helps leaders respond to the complex issues it faces in fulfilling the needs of students and employers.

J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at

Moving forward is the Cochise College way

JD Rottweiler, Ph.D.

It’s interesting how things change over time, some of it planned, some of it not.

“Finding the Cochise College ‘way,’” read the headline on my very first column as Cochise College president, dated August 2009. That piece highlighted some things I hoped we would do, focused on what a valuable resource Cochise College already was, and addressed something that is on my mind again as a new chapter in Cochise College history begins.

With this week’s opening of the Downtown Center, the college is poised and eager to chart unfamiliar waters. It is “moving forward.”

The opening of the center has energized board members, faculty and staff, and the community. It should, because we have ideas and plans that previously could not be explored because of space. That has all changed and we can hardly wait to get started.

Walt Disney once said, “Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Likewise, a college is no place to keep curiosity or new ideas at bay. My remarks at faculty-staff convocation encouraged creativity and innovation. For me, creativity and innovation are different. Creativity is the process of generating something new. It is a prerequisite of innovation. Innovation, on the other hand, is the practical application of that creativity. It is the act of introducing something new or improving an existing idea or process. Innovation disrupts the status quo and moves us forward.

The ability for Cochise College to be innovative on a sustainable basis requires us to look within and to renew ourselves continually. We have to be willing to clear enough of what’s on our minds to create an open space for new ideas, and to recognize new possibilities when they appear. Then we have to be willing to act on those new ideas or possibilities. Innovation is proof of creativity. Like any organization trying to be innovative, we have to be willing to change and we have to be willing to let go of things that are not working, outdated, or have run their course. This is often the most difficult part of innovating; letting go and change.

At Cochise College we are working hard to be innovative. Our objective is to offer employees opportunities to think outside the box, to defy boundaries – be they departmental, vocational, organizational, political, or otherwise – in order to best serve today’s students.

I did not in August 2009 foresee exactly where we are today. The column headline about “finding our way,” however, is timeless. If it is to remain relevant, the college should always be finding and redefining its way. It should always be moving forward.

J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at

New center offers transformational opportunity

JD Rottweiler, Ph.D.

As the world deals with global threats and unpredictable markets and the United States prepares for an important election, the term “creative destruction” or “disruptive innovation” has been regularly on my mind. In Forbes, contributor Adam Hartung recently applied the theory to the social climate that led to Brexit and the current U.S. presidential race.

Creative destruction is an economic term that refers to situations in which innovation renders its predecessors obsolete. What is known and accepted transitions into something else that becomes the new normal.

When considered in a more positive light, it’s a term that also makes me think of the Cochise College Downtown Center (slated to open in mid-August), where something that was obsolete, outdated, and closed is re-purposed and re-opens as a state-of-the-art teaching facility. The center is located in the former Sierra Vista Regional Health Center, which closed when Canyon Vista Hospital opened. It was donated to the college by The Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona. Through creativity and innovation, it becomes the new home, appropriately, of nursing and health sciences, culinary arts and electronics training programs; the Center for Lifelong Learning and Small Business Development Center/Center for Economic Research; Virtual Campus offices; and three local partners that facilitate community services. It makes room on campus for other things, flexibility the college hasn’t had in recent years. Notice the domino effect.

Extensive renovation has revealed symbols of past creative destruction. A “no parking” sign found on an interior wall is evidence that spot previously served a different purpose. Where once there was an emergency room, now there is a large classroom.

Many times, in order to grow, organizations need to remain relevant and keep up with the times, or even be ahead of the curve. Transformation isn’t always easy. But I feel that the forces that played a role in making the Downtown Center a reality shaped an especially sweet opportunity to transform that location and its purpose in a way that will benefit the entire region. The closure of something old has resulted in a creative innovation that advances not just one community but the whole county.

“Moving forward” will be the theme of this year’s Cochise College employee convocation, which will be the first event to test the capacity of the Downtown Center. The center itself is symbolic of this theme but also is a metaphor for creative destruction. What was old is new again.

J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at