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Innovation in action

I recently had the privilege of attending the Early IBEST for Computer Science class at the El Rio Learning Center.  Early IBEST is a Pima Community College innovation based on best practices learned while implementing the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (IBEST) model, which was developed in Washington State and which I instituted while President of Shoreline Community College.

In Early IBEST adult education students and English language learners work on their basic skills, while they explore careers in an occupation. In this Early IBEST, students are learning about the fast-growing field of Information Technology.

The Early IBEST students are studying Python, a computer programming language common throughout IT and other industries. They have written programs that convert Fahrenheit temperatures to Celsius and pounds to kilograms, as well as Mad Libs-type games. At the same time, they are improving their reading, writing, math and English language skills.

This successful initiative, like many at the College, depends on strong collaborations, both internal and external. The Microsoft Philanthropies Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program supplies the software and a trained industry volunteer to virtually teach the Python coding language. Our IT department has been instrumental in installing this distance learning system and keeping it up and running.  

That sentiment is due to the dedication of Adult Education Staff Instructor Katy Brown. I should note that Katy is learning coding herself – pushing outside her comfort zone – to provide her students with the best-possible support. I thank Katy as well as Regina Suitt, Laurie Kierstead-Joseph, Laura Porfirio, Wendy Scheder Black and the ABECC team for their creativity and foresight in bringing this and other Early IBEST programs to underrepresented populations. Everyone can code, and this program is evidence of Pima’s commitment to prepare every student for success in our 21st century digital world.

This innovative model pays tangible dividends, with Early IBEST students attending 3 times more hours in a year and achieving educational gains at a percentage that is 20 points higher than traditional adult education students.  One student told me that the coding class was the most important class taught at El Rio.

Major report on Pima’s transformation

I am pleased to announce that “SHIFT HAPPENS @ Pima Community College: The Future of Working and Learning,” an in-depth report chronicling the transformational changes that have occurred at Pima over the past half-decade, is available online.

The report was produced by Jamai Blivin, founder and CEO of Innovate+Educate, which focuses on education and workforce strategies, and Dr. Merrilea Mayo, founder of Mayo Enterprises LCC, which focuses on innovation, workforce, technology and the future of learning.

As you know, the College has come a long way in a relatively short time. Because of the courage and creativity of faculty, staff, administrators and the Governing Board, Pima is shifting in multiple ways so that current and future students can have meaningful and relevant careers and lives.

I want to thank the PCC Foundation and the many units of the College that worked with Ms. Bliven and Dr. Mayo on the report. I also want to thank Tucson Foundations and the Pima Association of Governments for their support.

The future is here: Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist

It is clear the future of truck transportation will offer new employment opportunities for today’s drivers, but will require a set of additional skills. Truck operators will need to supplement their existing capabilities with competencies in logistics, information technology and other areas. That is because emerging technologies known collectively as Industry 4.0 – Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing, digital technology, and the Internet of Things – will both continuously connect the vehicle to larger, complex systems and allow it to perform tasks autonomously.

In recognition of the need to prepare today’s truck operators for the professional opportunities of tomorrow, Pima and the autonomous vehicle manufacturer TuSimple have collaborated on a first-of-its-kind Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist certificate program.

This milestone, announced June 13, will teach experienced truck drivers to work with autonomous trucks in as little as one semester. Successful completers will be prepared to work as test drivers, operate the vehicle in situations where autonomous driving is not suitable, and oversee the system from a command center.

TuSimple and Pima have co-created a five-course curriculum for the certificate program, and TuSimple will prioritize hiring program graduates for jobs at its testing and development center in Tucson.

The new program, which begins in the Fall 2019 semester, demonstrates that Pima and TuSimple are thinking deeply about the social consequences of technology. Pima knows it must provide community members with programming that allows them to thrive in an era of accelerating change.

My thanks to Missy Blair, Program Manager at our Center for Transportation Training; Amanda Abens, Dean of Workforce Development and Continuing Education; and Vice President of Workforce Development Dr. Ian Roark for making the program a reality on an aggressive timeline. Also, I want to recognize the wide range of faculty and administrators who worked together on a truly innovative interdisciplinary curriculum.

Futures Conference 2019: Lessons of the Great Manure Crisis

The College held its sixth Futures Conference on April 26. I want to thank the nearly 70 members of the community, including a half dozen students, who joined Pima employees to discuss how Pima should respond to the profound changes impacting 21st-century society. We are in the midst of an economic upheaval driven in large part by the emergent technologies of Industry 4.0: cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence, mobile technology and the Internet of Things.

I began with a story highlighting the challenges new technologies pose to institutional planning. In 1898, New York City hosted an international conference dedicated to a problem plaguing the world’s great cities: Millions of pounds of manure, the byproduct of the proliferation of horse-and-buggy transportation, the Uber of its day.

To their credit, the world’s urban planners had identified and attempted to respond to the challenges of their cities’ predicament. But they overlooked the automobiles that were just beginning to make their way down Park Avenue, Kensington Street and the Champs-Élysées. They lacked the foresight to fully imagine the consequences of the post-manure world (Manure 2.0 and 3.0), conceivably because they misjudged the speed at which new technologies would be adopted.

It took about 10 years for the horse and buggy to give way to machine-powered transportation in New York and other major cities. The timeline for changes wrought by Industry 4.0 is likely to be much more compressed. (It is worth noting that it took 20 years before 100 million Americans acquired a cellphone, 10 before 100 million connected to the Internet and only five before 100 million Americans signed up for Facebook.) I impressed upon the attendees that their task was to address challenges both distant and immediate. The future of education will be here soon, and thanks to Industry 4.0, will mean the new hallmarks of an effective classroom will be increased hybridization, digitization and personalization.

Personalization may be the most critical advance, as it offers a pathway to achieving educational equity. We need to understand and value the individual. Tens of thousands of diverse students come through our doors. We must take into account our students’ personal circumstances in order to lift them up to the starting line. Pima recognizes that offering equality of opportunity is an empty gesture without first redressing inequities, many of which are systemic, and some of which have been centuries in the making. If successful, Pima will achieve its goal of being an instrument of social justice, a necessity for our community, for, as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has said, “Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.”

Preparing for the Future of Work and Learning: the Role of Community Colleges

Our Aviation Technology program leads the way in training the next generation of technicians.

Who is more skilled – the brain surgeon or the automotive technician?

I posed this question at the beginning of my recent presentation to the Arizona House of Representatives’ Education Committee. My topic was “Preparing for the Future of Work and Learning: The Role of Community Colleges.” The query actually was meant to illuminate the point of my talk: Transformative change is taking place in every occupation, and will profoundly affect all workers, from those who wield a scalpel to those who turn a wrench.

Behind the disruption are the dizzying advances being made in mobile technology, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things. It would not be a stretch to think of these forces as “superpowers” in that, in the words of Pat Gelsinger, Chief Executive Officer of VMWare, a global firm specializing in digital infrastructure, they are on a par with “major nations, shaping the course of history.” Taken together, these forces amount to a Fourth Industrial Revolution that is “fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human,” according to Klaus Schwab, Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

Needed: new skills

These forces will have a profound impact on work. The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 percent of today’s first graders will work in jobs that do not currently exist. And the timeframe for these seismic shifts are a little more than a decade away. In some cases, the shifts have already occurred. By 2030, 1 in 3 U.S. workers – including the surgeon and the mechanic — will need to learn new skills and find work in new occupations, according to a 2017 McKinsey Global Insights forecast.

What does this mean for Pima Community College, a large comprehensive higher education institution in Tucson, Arizona, about 65 miles from the Mexico border? Pima and its fellow Arizona community colleges, uniquely positioned to provide the human capital that helps determine the economic success of our region, must possess the nimbleness to train Arizonans to thrive in the brutally competitive global marketplace of the 21st century. There is no time to waste: The Brookings Institution calculates that 44 percent of job tasks in Tucson and Phoenix already are susceptible to automation.

Deepening relationships with industry

“Shift Happens 2,” a February 2019 report by INNOVATE + EDUCATE, a national workforce development nonprofit, stresses the importance of learners pursing a myriad of credentials. “Today, it is no longer a pathway from primary to secondary to postsecondary education leading to a job. That staid formula is no longer working . . . . Today, a learner’s most pressing need is a greater connect between education and employment outcomes.” Pima recognizes the need to shift teaching and learning to emphasize applied learning, lifelong learning and earn-to-learn models. The success of these endeavors depends on strong partnerships with business.

For example, through our Applied Technology Academy, we are training engineers from Caterpillar, the global heavy-equipment manufacturer, which recently opened a facility in Tucson. Caterpillar has identified a gap in its engineers’ skill set: they lack real-world, factory-floor fabrication experience.  Pima’s remedy is to offer six-week lab-lecture classes, Welding for Non-Welders and Machining for Non-Machinists, that lets the engineers get their hands dirty. So far, 48 CAT employees have completed the classes, and another cohort is scheduled. We also are developing a new class, Prototyping using Non-metal Materials.

Meeting the needs of industry is also the goal of our collaboration with TuSimple, an autonomous vehicle manufacturer with a production facility in Tucson.  With autonomous trucks delivering groceries in Phoenix, it’s clear that the future of truck transportation will mean drivers will need to learn a special set of new skills. We are working with TuSimple to build an Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist certificate that will build competencies in multiple areas – from logistics to information technology to automated industrial technology – that will be needed for the drivers of the future to interact with their autonomous vehicles.

Centers of Excellence

A Center of Excellence (CoE) is an academic hub, a collection of  programs strategically aligned to pursue excellence in a particular field of study. Pima is planning CoEs in six disciplines; the first to be brought online will be one focused on Applied Technology. We are investing more than $56 million, with additional funding to come from a capital campaign, to expand existing programs and start new ones across three areas: Transportation Technology (e.g., Automotive Technology, Diesel Technology, Autonomous and Connected Vehicles),  Manufacturing/Advanced Manufacturing (Machine Technology, Welding/Fabrication, Automated Industrial Technology, Process Control Optics, Quality and Design), and Infrastructure (Construction, Utility Technology, Mining and HVAC).  Our CoEs are founded on meeting the workforce needs of today while forecasting and responding to changes beyond the horizon.

Aviation Technology

Everyone benefits when education and private industry collaborate. In Arizona, we are fortunate to have leaders who recognize the role government can play in propelling the state’s economy. Gov. Doug Ducey has included in his 2019 budget proposal a $20 million one-time allocation to expand and improve our Aviation Technology Center (ATC). If approved by the State Legislature, the funding will potentially double, to 250, the students the ATC can serve. The extra capacity is necessary, as the program currently has a waitlist stretching more than a year.

Why Pima’s Aviation Tech Center? Our ATC has a national reputation built on rigor – 2,000 hours of training, more than 100 exams, nearly 300 hands-on projects. We are one of a handful of schools offering sought-after advanced structural repair and modification, and commercial jet transport and Avionics training, thanks to the 727 on site.

The state’s investment in Pima would solidify Arizona’s pre-eminent position in aerospace manufacturing while helping fill an education gap that could threaten our lofty standing. Arizona ranks No. 1 in overall aerospace manufacturing, according to the global consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), but is only 20th in the U.S. in the education subcomponent of the rankings. PwC notes that our northern neighbor Utah has engaged seven aerospace companies in the expansion of a program that provides high school seniors with training for an aerospace manufacturing certification. It is imperative Arizona does not fall behind in providing the “educated, technology-savvy and diversified workforce” needed to maintain competitiveness in this sector.

The bottom line, according to an analysis by Sun Corridor Inc., a regional economic development entity: The expansion would produce 75 new Aviation Tech graduates a year in jobs with an average salary of $52,000. The total economic impact from 2019-2023 from the $20 million investment:  $225.6 million – a better than 11-to-1 return. In aviation, as in other economic sectors, one need not be a brain surgeon to recognize the wisdom of preparing our workforce for the future.

Visit by member of U.S. Congress

Five guys

Last week our Desert Vista Campus was the site of a tour by U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva. Congressman Grijalva met with representatives of our Student Services Center, including our Program Advisors. These professionals, experts in specific fields of study such as Applied Technology, described to Rep. Grijalva their roles in getting students to successfully complete their respective academic programs.

The tour also included a visit to our new Integrated Learning Center, and to Desert Vista’s TRiO office, where Rep. Grijalva received an update about the umbrella of programs at campuses throughout PCC  that are dedicated to helping first-generation, low-income students achieve their academic goals. We concluded at the Culinary Arts kitchens and Teacher Education offices.

Later this week, Gov. Doug Ducey and Mayor Jonathan Rothschild will visit our Downtown Campus to make an important announcement and to be on hand when we announce a new collaboration with Caterpillar’s Tucson side. It’s heartening to see that elected officials and the business community view Pima Community College as a key player in furthering the educational aspirations of all students, including students of modest means, and in workforce development in Southern Arizona.