Community colleges: propelling workers into STEM careers

Duval Ducey

Here’s a fact that bears repeating: One in five U.S. jobs requires knowledge of science, technology, engineering or mathematics – the STEM disciplines.

And here’s a fact that might not be so well-known: Community colleges award more than half of post-secondary STEM degrees and will play a major role in developing a career-ready workforce that can invigorate our nation’s economy.

The connection between education and the economy has informed recent visits to Pima Community College by Doug Ducey and Fred DuVal, the Republican and Democratic candidates for Arizona governor. Both men took time out of their busy schedules to learn about our Aviation Technology Center, which Inside Tucson Business has termed “one of the best-kept secrets” in Southern Arizona. Located at the western edge of Tucson International Airport, PCC’s aviation facility is the perfect place to see how we’re doing our part to train men and women for well-paying careers in one of the most vibrant sectors of Arizona’s economy.

Fred, a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents, outlined his plans for education at the Aviation Technology Center last month. Earlier this week, Doug, Arizona’s State Treasurer, toured the center and met with me and several other College administrators. Thanks to Advanced Program Manager Tom Hinman, Department Chair Eric Ross and others at the center, our aviation program is no longer secret from either of the men who hope to lead our state.

Of course, within the region’s aerospace industry, the Aviation Technology Center has a well-known stellar reputation. PCC is one of only a handful of the approximately 160 FAA-approved schools to have curriculum targeted at commercial jet transports and seems to be the only U.S. school teaching Advanced Structural Repair and Modification, a highly sought after and well-paying skill. Over the past year, more than a dozen firms with local operations have hired our students. Median salaries in the field range from $36,020 to $46,680, not including the overtime/shift differential pay that employees often accrue. It is not unusual for experienced, qualified technicians to earn close to $100,000 a year.

The Aviation Technology Center is one of the areas of the College benefiting from the state’s $600,000 allocation for STEM in 2014-15. We also are using the funding for microscopes and other science lab equipment, laptop and tablet computers for mathematics students, and anatomy and physiology models in our health-related professions courses. By improving the education of our students, PCC increases their employability, and we look forward to working with the state to develop resources in the future.

It’s no secret that Arizona’s rebound from the Great Recession has been slow. That’s especially true for Tucson, which recently was ranked 143rd out of 150 U.S. cities recovering from the economic downtown, slightly ahead of Detroit. Nearly 3,000 STEM positions were unfilled locally in the first quarter of 2013. In PCC’s Aviation Technology Program, the number of students awaiting admission exceeds capacity by 10 percent. Against this backdrop, it is important that all our constituents know what is at stake, and the vast potential PCC has as a launching pad for developing Southern Arizona’s 21st-century STEM economy.

Regardless of who is elected governor of Arizona, I am pleased that both of the major party candidates sought to learn about PCC’s aviation program and our critical role in workforce training. My hope is that the investment of time they made in PCC during the campaign will help shape their decisions once the work of governing begins early next year.

Lastly, let’s not forget that choosing Arizona’s next governor is up to us. I urge all PCC students, employees and community members to make their voices heard in the upcoming election. Doug and Fred made a point to learn about us; we should learn about them. Get to know the issues. Familiarize yourself with the candidates’ positions. Don’t miss this opportunity to make an informed choice on Nov. 4. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 6 and early voting begins three days later, on Oct. 9. More information is available from the Office of the Secretary of State and the Pima County Recorder’s Office.

An international program for the 21st century


The 49 college students from Mexico attending Pima Community College this semester are doing more than working on their English skills and taking classes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics disciplines. They are part of a culture-spanning initiative that is truly hemispheric in scope.

Last week at West Campus, I had the pleasure of taking part in a welcome-to-Pima for the 50 students. They are here thanks to the support of the SEP-Bécalos-Santander Universidades International Program, in collaboration with Fundación Televisa (a large Mexican foundation). The Bécalos program is part of the U.S. 100,000 Strong for the Americas Global Initiative and its Mexican counterpart, Proyecta 100,000, as well as the U.S.-Mexico Bi-national Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research.

In total, the initiative’s reach extends from Canada to South America, making PCC’s guest students the vanguard of a huge international awareness project that aligns with our strategic goals of enhancing global education at PCC. Having grown up on three continents, I know that living or studying broad profoundly changes your perception of the world. The Bécalos students will emerge with new perspective on the world. So will the students they engage with at PCC, especially the Pima PEERS – Positive Engaging Educational Resource Support. These students are easing the transition to PCC for our guests, many of whom had never been to the U.S. before.

Many people and groups have contributed to the program’s successful launch: West Campus President Dr. Lou Albert, Executive Assistant Geneva Escobedo and Enrollment Program Manager Craig Winters, the International Student Services Office, Student Life Coordinator Jennifer Wellborn, Bécalos Program Coordinator Yvonne Perez, Student Services Advanced Specialist Rose Bolz and Advanced Program Manager Dr. Daisy Rodriguez Pitel, who is putting together the programs numerous pieces. Also, I want to acknowledge Dr. Ricardo Castro-Salazar of Northwest Campus, who was instrumental in making the project become a reality, and Maggie Suárez of Fundación Televisa.

And as always, an effort of this breadth couldn’t be achieved without our community partners. The students’ out-of-classroom education will be substantial, thanks to the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The THCC, led by President Lea Marquez Peterson, will provide job shadowing and mentoring opportunities from a variety of businesses in the research and manufacturing sectors, and will provide help with language skills. Felipe Garcia of Visit Tucson notes that the program is a prime opportunity for our diverse city to make a favorable impression on the students and influence future visitors from Mexico.

Mexican Consul Ricardo Pineda Albarran put it well when he described the Arizona-Sonora relationship as one of the richest in the world, not just in terms of the billions of dollars in trade and investment between the two regions, but in growing opportunities for cultural and educational enrichment. “We live in a global era,” he said. In the 21st century, being a responsible citizen means thinking not only about the folks next door, but also about your neighbors around the world. Programs such as Bécalos send a strong message that PCC is rebuilding its international presence, and all of the students involved can be proud of being part of a project with global impact.

West Campus update

Lumen print

Student Life, our catch-all term for student clubs, student government, advocacy and other enrichment opportunities, is critical to the development of students at PCC. During office hours at West Campus last week, I sat down with Advanced Program Manager Dr. Daisy Rodriguez Pitel, Support Technician Shawn Graham, Student Life Coordinator Jennifer Wellborn and Bécalos Program Coordinator Yvonne Perez to talk about the role that co-curricular activities have in fostering a well-rounded student.

Student Life encompasses a broad range of initiatives involving civic engagement, service learning and cross-cultural awareness. Student Life improves students’ ability to work well in a team, obtain leadership skills, and communicate effectively. It also has a key role to play in achieving greater diversity, inclusion and global education, a key goal for PCC. That is the impetus, for example, behind the requirement that the 50 college students from Mexico studying at PCC this semester join one of the more than 30 student clubs at West. Interacting in a variety of settings with people who are not like you benefits everyone. [The West Campus community, including the President’s Office, the International Student Services Office and Student Life, has given a great welcome to the students from Mexico, whose semester here is being supported by the SEP-Bécalos-Santander Universidades International Program.  I will be writing more about this great international initiative very soon.]

My West Campus office hours also included a tour of the classrooms and industry-standard labs of our Photography program. [I’d like to thank Photography Instructor Ann Simmons-Myers, Lab Specialist Karen Hymer and Acting Dean of Arts, Communications and Humanities Trina Felty for the tour.] PCC offers an Associate of Applied Arts degree with a concentration in Photography, as well as an Associate for Fine Arts for transfer. Students taking our classes are pursuing a variety of education goals. Some intend to transfer to The University of Arizona to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the discipline. Others are budding entrepreneurs who hope to open their own studios. Still others are taking photography courses as part of their Digital Arts or Fashion Design studies at PCC.

Excellence in photography has been a hallmark of PCC for more than four decades. The renowned Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery is named for the father of photography education at PCC, who died in 1989. The program has since been expanded and enhanced to stay ahead of the technology curve. Our community partners include UA’s Center for Creative Photography, the Tucson Botanical Gardens and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, among others.

One of the fascinating aspects of the tour: It revealed that even in this digital age, the relevance of “old-fashioned” photography – creating art with the help of darkrooms and chemicals – remains strong. Our students, while learning cutting edge digital photography, are also exploring 19th-century techniques such as cyanotype printing. They are even experimenting with printing that requires neither chemicals nor camera.  [The accompanying photo is by student Ryan Dillon, a former Bernal and Gabe Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship winner currently enrolled in our Radiologic Technology program.] And they are mixing digital and darkroom photography to produce a wealth of creative mash-ups.

One student said she finds photography stimulating because it pushes her to change the way she looks at the world. And, when you come to think about it, that’s an eloquent description of what we at Pima Community College, through our classroom and extracurricular offerings, seek for all our students.

Hotel and Restaurant Management: a global career

The hospitality industry is a major component of Southern Arizona’s economy and, as a recent Arizona Daily Star story informed us, is poised to grow.

This is why I was pleased to read about our top-quality Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) program in the Sept. 5 edition of Inside Tucson Business. The article notes that we have dedicated space in our new Northwest Campus building to HRM. In the new space we have two classrooms that each accommodates over 25 students who get real-life training at the space’s hotel front desk, bathroom and bedroom.

PCC offers certificate and associate degree programs in HRM. Through a partnership with Northern Arizona University, our students also can transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree at Northern Arizona University

As lead faculty member Armando Trujillo notes in the story, the hospitality sector offers opportunities for employment around the U.S. and around the world. Through our program, we offer students a chance to embark on a truly global career.

​Creating an end-to-end learning experience

Systems thinking is one of the tools Pima Community College must master if it is to truly focus on students. The many parts of our dynamic organization need to mesh seamlessly to deliver the most effective learning experience. For many students, our prowess at systems thinking manifests itself most clearly in how our classrooms and tutoring centers connect and coordinate with each other.

PCC offers tutoring at five of our campuses, and our tutors help to hundreds of students each day of the school year. Our campus presidents and I recently met with a few dozen tutors at a pre-semester workshop led by Penny Turrentine, director of the West Campus Learning Center, to gather the tutors’ front-line perspectives.

I can attest to the importance of academic support services such as tutoring. As an undergrad at The Evergreen State College, the “SQ3R” (Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review) method of improving reading comprehension and critical thinking made a real difference in my studies.

Learning is a complex process, but given that so much knowledge comes from outside the classroom, it’s clear that integrating teaching and tutoring is in the best interest of our students. Everyone who impacts student learning can play complementary roles in creating a culture of continuous assessment. Tutors can identify gaps in student learning, build interdisciplinary study skills and help students take advantage of new technological tools such as enhanced online tutoring or the Khan Academy’s library of interactive online tools.

Increasing the quality and quantity of interactions between instructors and tutors is important. Tutors can benefit from the insights of faculty advisory boards that work with campus leadership. Having tutors attend classes as part of their work hours would enhance their skills and break down barriers.

PCC students can take many pathways to success, and some of these paths run through our Learning Centers and Tutoring Centers. Our staff, faculty and administrators know what works when it comes to creating a deeper, end-to-end learning experience for our students. Our task is to take promising practices and embed them into the College’s operating system, so that our students may benefit.

Welcoming PCC’s newest leader


A lot of lively discussion marked Monday’s welcome reception for our new Desert Vista Campus President, Morgan Phillips.

Morgan and I had the opportunity to talk with many of the dedicated faculty, staff and administrators that make the campus so successful day in and out. During his comments and a Q and A with the group, Morgan talked about making Desert Vista a leader in technology and partnerships, as well as a key resource for the surrounding community.

Morgan put it well when he said that “community colleges are effective, change lives and make things better for individuals.” It’s our job, he added, “to work to make sure everyone understands that so we have the support so we can reach out to the community the way we need to.”

I agree completely, and that is exactly what we’re doing at PCC.

Morgan, who has a doctorate in education, is a community college graduate and has spent his professional career in community colleges, including at Valencia College, one of the nation’s leading community colleges. He comes to us from Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, N.C., where he was Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs and, before that, Vice President of Curriculum Instruction. As I told yesterday’s crowd, I have an affinity for North Carolina because that is where my father’s family is from.

Morgan embraces technology as a tool to improve education delivery and services. That will play a big part in Pima’s work as we move forward. We need to ensure that the College has the capabilities to use technology to identify and meet the needs of our stakeholders.

Desert Vista Campus is home to the College’s Early Childhood Studies and Culinary Arts programs, as well as the Center for Training and Development. It also is home campus for the Aviation Technology Program, which is based at the PCC Aviation Technology Center on the grounds of Tucson International Airport.

Morgan has extensive experience in accreditation, strategic planning and forging partnerships with business and industry. He has been on the job since Aug. 14, and just last week got the good news that Desert Vista Campus has been awarded a $2.5 million Title V grant to improve the academic success of Hispanic students.

Aviation Technology Center completion

I had the pleasure last week of congratulating our most recent class of completers of our Aviation Technology program. A pre-graduation dinner was held at Desert Vista Campus, thanks to the support of Dave Tedlock, a member of the PCC Foundation’s Board of Directors, and Steve Pagnucco, general manager of Universal Avionics. The event is just another example of the important role that our business and community partners play in providing opportunities to our students.

The graduates honored last week are about to embark on careers dedicated to keeping travelers safe and connected. When a grandparent lands in Tucson for a family visit, or a student touches down safely in Paris to begin a year of study abroad, it’s due in part to the professionalism and dedication of qualified aviation technicians such as those produced by our program.

The need for qualified employees in the Aviation Technology industry is projected to be great. Pilot and Technician Outlook estimates 98,000 additional aviation technicians will be needed across North America over the next 20 years. In December, the Manufacturing Institute noted that “talent management shortfalls” are one of the biggest threats to the country’s continued leadership in the aircraft industry. In Arizona, 25 percent of the state’s 17,500 civil aviation workers will reach retirement age in the next two years.

The faculty, led by Department Chair Eric Ross, should be proud of their students’ accomplishment, as should Program Manager Tom Hinman and Program Assistant Benetta Jackson, the program’s all-round den mother. It should be noted that five of the graduates recognized last week are second-generation members of the industry. The fact that industry professionals are sending their children to PCC for training is a testament to the quality of our program.