Following a year dictated by a pandemic, it’s refreshing to have some very positive news to share with you. The world is not starting 2021 where I hoped it would. But we at Cochise College are optimistically playing the hand we were dealt.

During the last two months, the college celebrated the opening of facilities that will provide greater opportunities for students. Thanks to the efforts of Senate Appropriations Chair David Gowan and the Legislative District 14 team, each of those projects moved forward with the help of a $3.14 million allocation for workforce ready projects in rural Arizona. Each of those projects could easily have been sidetracked in 2020. Creative thinking and diligence overshadowed challenges, and those facilities will welcome their first students this semester.

In December, we hosted (socially distanced) community partners and broadcast the open house of new cybersecurity and virtual reality facilities at our Downtown Center in Sierra Vista. Sharing the work of our faculty and staff and the opportunities now available for students — both in person and remote — energized everyone. The new center provides students with hands-on learning experiences using real-world applications. They’ll learn to develop virtual reality useful for a host of activities, to include education and training, and also to identify and mitigate cybersecurity threats in a learning environment reflective of what they’ll experience in the workforce. Our partnership with Fort Huachuca on that project is sure to open doors for students.

Thirteen months ago, the college broke ground on a 25,000-square-foot automotive technology training facility. I’m proud to say the project was completed late last fall with no debt and no additional taxes. At a ribbon cutting hosted this month, we all marveled at the way our automotive program will still be the same quality program it’s always been, and at how it will also be so different moving forward in terms of its capabilities. The program has outgrown every off-campus facility it’s had the good fortune to borrow, from the RPM Center on Fort Huachuca to a county maintenance yard and, more recently, a former dealership generously offered to the college by Lawley Automotive Group. The new center includes two classrooms and a shop that can accommodate disassembly, reassembly and demonstrations; two different alignment racks; a wash-down bay; four flat bays and 18 hoist bays. Being on the Sierra Vista Campus provides students with easier access to all of the academic and support services available there.

Over the past 10 months, we’ve had to rethink how we do things. The ways we teach and serve students have changed, and nowhere is that more visible than in the new automotive center. In December 2019, we would not have considered using cameras and smart boards in the auto shop. But a video camera on an instructor’s head can be used to broadcast footage taken under a car to a nearby screen and demonstrate concepts without gathering groups of students in close proximity or showing them something one by one. That video can be recorded and replayed. SmartBoards now link the shop to concepts broadcast in the classroom.

Things are always changing, but the pandemic sped up the pace. What remains the same at Cochise College as we enter 2021 are the outstanding and committed faculty and staff who put student learning first, the hands-on learning experiences that will prepare students for careers, the guidance and direction of advisory committees and business leaders, the creativity and flexibility of our design and construction partners DLR Group and Diversified Design & Construction, and the vision and leadership of the Governing Board. We should be proud of all of the individuals who have helped to make the college what it is today.

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