Mustering the innovative troops at Cochise College

By J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.

J.D. RottweilerI awoke Monday, Aug. 12 with the same feeling of excitement I always get at the start of a new academic year. That day we welcome back faculty and staff with an employee convocation, a college-wide meeting that takes place the week prior to the start of school.

The convocation theme was “I am the ‘I’ in Innovation.” Innovation is something new, improved, or problem-solving, a disruption to the status quo. The college has been innovating and changing for 50-plus years. It’s gone from serving 400 credit-bearing students in the 1960s to nearly 12,000 today, and from awarding three degrees in its first year to almost 1,600 last May. That doesn’t happen without an enormous amount of dedication, creativity, and forward thinking by faculty and staff.

The day included a “muster” – as Provost Dr. Verlyn Fick dubbed it – a calling up for inspection, display, or exhibition any number of new and innovative things. (Where does he come up with these things?) That’s right, it included an innovation fair at which departments shared recent and upcoming innovative activities that support student success. There were more than 50 booths to visit!

Guaranteeing scholarships to graduating Cochise County high school seniors has shone a greater spotlight on student success and completion. As a result, we have worked with our K-12 partners to bolster dual credit initiatives by having a high school teacher facilitate learning of online content. The Student Success staff is promoting enrollment in 15 (credits per semester) to Finish (or just one more class for part-time students), helping students hone in on a major early, and implementing mandatory advising in an effort to help students stay on track for timely graduation.

Last year, we embedded part-time professional tutors in some pre-college-level English, reading and math courses, where they worked closely with faculty and 112 students to provide immediate support. Tutors were also available to work with individual students immediately before and after class. The result of the years’ grant-funded initiative was fewer students on academic probation, and a slightly higher GPA. Individualized assistance provided a support system that helped students stay on track.

Faculty have implemented reading apprenticeships in which reading skill development is embedded in subject-area learning, class members draw on each other’s knowledge and make sense of text together. Students also learn from each other in courses that make use of student-centered small group instruction, in which faculty give up some control, focus less on recalled content from a textbook, and force students to actively participate and step outside their comfort zone. This practice forces students to think more deeply and to come better prepared because they might have to answer a question from a classmate.

Another faculty member scheduled courses in such a way as to allow students flexibility in the way they attend and interact in class. Students could enroll in the online, face-to-face, or hybrid (both) delivery of a course, where enrollment numbers might otherwise preclude one format or another. Students were exposed to more diverse perspectives of others enrolled in a different format of the course, and they could switch from one format to another if they found one wasn’t working for them.

The innovation fairs at convocation were also buzzing with curiosity about virtual and augmented reality in the classroom, including art, engine repair, and welding. As well as discussions on math placement improvements, innovations in the Testing Centers, the upcoming launch of an online multi-media orientation software and internal communication portal, food pantries, note-taking technology, a planned automotive training facility, and much more.

I love working at Cochise College. Why? It’s the dedicated, committed and innovative people. For many of us, working at Cochise College is more than a job. It’s a calling, a passion, a way of life. In short, the people are the reason your community college passes muster!

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