Education

Building on education



The Donald and Peggy Cravens Student Services Center adds aesthetics and greater service to the College of the Desert campus in Palm Desert.

Photo by Chris Miller

College of the Desert’s Board of Trustees faced a pleasant dilemma: what to do with $346.5 million after voters approved a bond measure in 2004 to improve their community college’s facilities. The past year has seen dramatic changes on the COD campus as the money gets spent.

The Donald and Peggy Cravens Student Services Center may be the most visually impactful — and, for the student body as a whole, meaningful — project. While bond funds paid the $17 million building costs, the Cravens’ $3.5 million endowment covers maintenance in perpetuity. The spiffy digs concentrate once-separated operations such as admissions and records, financial aid, counseling, student affairs, health services, a bookstore, and other core services.

At the end of June, shovels overturned dirt for another building (also penciled out at $17 million) to house classrooms and labs for math, engineering, and science studies. College officials expect construction to take 18 months.

Off campus, COD celebrated its first hands-on, utility-scale solar class at the new Desert Energy Enterprise Center in Palm Springs. The program is designed to prepare workers for jobs in large-scale solar projects anticipated by Coachella Valley futurists. Thirty-eight students took the course that ended July 30. Last year, 16 students graduated from COD’s first wind turbine technician training held at the center; this summer, 55 students were trained in the fourth course. Also this summer, 40 students took part in two courses on how to conduct home energy efficiency audits.

On July 21, the Palm Springs City Council voted to pay the U.S. Bureau of Land Management $2.1 million for 119 acres of land at the northwest corner of Indian Canyon Drive and Tramview Road for the long-talked-about West Valley campus of COD. Seventy of those acres will be for GreenPark, whose solar array should produce 10 megawatts of electricity (enough to power 2,800 homes), with the revenue invested in programs and services at the campus. Programs will focus on hospitality and tourism, media and the arts, allied health, and sustainable technology. A business incubation center will host companies with complementary interests, and other educational institutions may lease space. GreenPark could be operational by 2012; the first phase of the campus (expected to take 20+ years for build-out) should be completed in 2014.

Similar to the goals at COD, programs at the Palm Desert campuses of University of California, Riverside and California State University, San Bernardino also are designed to help create a Coachella Valley workforce able to not only fill local needs, but also attract technology-based, green industries that diversify the local economy.

Like COD, CSUSB recognized the need to expand student services. In January, the university opened a student center that houses a resource library, cultural library, and conference room.

In June, the school presented 22 diplomas to its first graduating class of the three-year nursing program began in 2007. Seventeen of those students immediately lined up positions at Desert Regional Medical Center, Eisenhower Medical Center, and John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, where they received clinical training as part of the program.

“Clinical time in the hospitals gave me a chance to apply what I learned in the classroom. It brought the textbook to life,” says Keeley Mizell, a 1995 graduate of Cathedral City High School who lined up a job in DRMC’s Intensive Care Unit.

“During my senior year, I was able to complete my final clinical rotation in the [DRMC] Ortho/Oncology Department, my future workplace,” says Rhianna Huffman, a 2004 graduate of Hamilton High School in Anza and former COD student. “I was able to become familiar with the unit, the staff, and the various roles of nursing. As a new graduate nurse, I believe that this experience will assist in the transition from a student nurse to a professional nurse.”

Responding to a need expressed by local school district representatives during advisory committee meetings at CSUSB, the university announced a program beginning this fall. “They have often told us we need to recruit and certify more math teachers,” says Carl Brown, director of graduate education programs. Beginning with the 2010-2011 academic year, CSUSB will offer credentials in math instruction for teachers of classes through the ninth grade.

UCR marked its own milestones in June. Thirty-three students graduated with master of fine arts degrees in creative writing and writing for the performing arts — the largest group of graduates from a degree program at UCR Palm Desert since it opened in 2005.

Also in June, 10 students from UCR Palm Desert Graduate Center’s inaugural executive MBA class embarked on a nine-day educational sojourn to China.

“We talked to people at Coca-Cola, GM, Google, Yum Brands [KFC, Pizza Hut], law firms, and consulting firms,” says Jack Gregg, director of executive programs. ”Most people assume that the big message of China is cheap labor. The big takeaway is there’s incredible innovation. It just happens to be in China. It’s not so much a China story. It’s a global marketplace story.”

In addition to visiting a dozen or so companies, law firms, and consulting businesses, the students were divided into groups and assigned “field studies” (i.e., find a local Walmart and purchase something or get pricing on comparable items you might find at home). They also carved out time to visit the World Expo in Shanghai.

MBA student and La Quinta resident Brian Rojas, who works in the building/ land development industry, says, “After completing my first year, I’ve come to realize that what I’m learning can be applied to many other industries. Now I am more open, more flexible to all opportunities that may come my way, including opportunities to stay and work in the Coachella Valley.”

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