Public investment to boost workforce development


By J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.

J.D. RottweilerAn important role of any community college is to support the economic development of the region it serves. Cochise has a long history of doing so by granting thousands of degrees and certificates annually to students who now work in healthcare, automotive, construction, cybersecurity, welding, law enforcement, business and more. It also has published economic data and hosted luncheons in a number of Cochise County cities, providing a tool for those seeking to recruit businesses or relocate here.

As the era of the college-hosted economic luncheon comes to a close, I’m pleased to report some new developments aimed at providing more opportunities to support the local workforce. This fiscal year, the state legislature found itself with money to spend. After reviewing historical allocations, community colleges were fortunate enough to receive a one-time allocation of $35 million, with $14.2 million going to rural colleges for various purposes. Sen. David Gowan, chair of the Appropriations Committee, and the entire representation of Legislative District 14, were able to bring needed dollars back to these colleges for the development of new and enhancement of existing programs.

Cochise was the recipient of $3.14 million, which will be used to enhance the agriculture and automotive programs, and to implement a virtual reality developer program.

The college is exploring ways to become a leader in the research and development of industrial and low-water-use crops. To that end, the pad for a new greenhouse is in place on the north end of the Douglas Campus, near the Science Building. Greenhouse parts arrive this month, with the facility expected to be constructed in December.

Later this fall, the college will break ground on a 24,000-square-foot automotive facility on the east side of the Sierra Vista Campus. The facility the college has been renting from Lawley Automotive Group for the last several years has provided much-needed visibility to the program and student numbers and faculty needs have outgrown the current location. The new state-of-the-art automotive facility, planned to open in 2021, will include 18 bays, including two demonstration bays. We appreciate the generosity and willingness of Sean Lawley to allow us to use the Highway 92 property, as the location helped build the automotive program in meaningful ways.

Now, imagine you could take a trip down the Amazon River simply by donning a headset. That’s virtual reality, and according to many experts, it’s the way of the future. Any situation can be created and experienced – everything from driving simulation for law enforcement to training for soldiers. It just takes someone to build the content. Enter Cochise College. We’ve launched a virtual reality technician certificate program and are developing three others – content developer, graphic artist, and instructional design – over the next three years. Some cooperative education credit will be planned through internships on Fort Huachuca, and those earning the certificates will have the opportunity to pursue full associate’s degrees. By 2022, the college will have the internal capacity to stand up a virtual reality content development cell to create its own course content.

We get very excited about opportunities to serve our employers and provide students with skills they can use locally. Our goal, after all, is to increase the percentage of graduating high school seniors who pursue academic or technical training and the percentage of residents who hold an associate’s degree or higher. I want to thank the legislators who visited Cochise College to learn about virtual reality in October for the chance not just to share exciting news about the future, but to also make it a reality.

J.D. ROTTWEILER, Ph.D., is president of Cochise College. Contact him at jdr@cochise.edu.