Phil Castle, The Business Times
Page Tucker promotes collaborations between his company and Colorado Mesa University, hiring students as first interns and then employees.
CMU graduates prefer to remain in the Grand Valley, and Tucker’s only too happy to help keep local talent local, he said. “I think there’s lots of opportunities and lots of advantages of being in a smaller community.”
Tucker, president and chief executive officer of ProStar Geocorp in Grand Junction, was among the members of a panel that discussed CMU and work force development as part of a presentation on an initiative to increase student enrollment at CMU while also building support for the university.
The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the breakfast event to offer an update on CMU 20000, an effort of the chamber and CMU to increase enrollment to 15,000 while enlisting the assistance of 5,000 supporters.
Matthew Breman, a member of the chamber board, said the effort is important in part because of the contributions CMU makes to the regional economy — an estimated $447.5 million worth for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years. “When the university wins, we all win.”
CMU President Tim Foster said the university continues to expand in terms of both the instructional programs and physical facilities offered there.
That includes additional technical certifications as well as an electrical and computer engineering degree offered through a program with the University of Colorado at Boulder.
CMU opened an engineering and computer science building, and Foster said he expects construction to soon begin on a 60-room hotel that will serve as a teaching facility for CMU students studying hospitality management.
Foster also praised efforts with school districts in Mesa and Montrose counties to place career counselors in local high schools and encourage students to pursue further education and training, whether that’s at CMU or elsewhere.
“We think what we do is so important,” Foster said.
A panel discussion that followed touched on a number of topics, including a scholarship program launched by the City of Grand Junction to help local high school graduates attend CMU. The city has earmarked a total of $250,000 to scholarships for the 2018-2019 school year.
Bennett Boeschenstein, Grand Junction mayor pro tem and another member of the panel, said the scholarships constitute a long-term investment in not only the recipients, but also the community.
John Williams, a member of the Mesa County School District 51 board and the panel, discussed the benefits of a collaboration between the district and CMU to offer high school students access at no charge to training and courses offered by CMU and Western Colorado Community College.
Foster and Williams said they hope more students will take advantage of the opportunity — particularly seniors who’ve already met the requirements for high school graduation, but could enjoy what Foster called a “running start” at earning college credit.
Tucker said he’s hired four students from CMU as paid interns, and they’ve all gone on to full-time positions with ProStar Geocorp. The company combines geographic information systems and data to offer computer software and services that help customers manage infrastructure, whether it’s displaying, collecting, storing or using information about the location of pipelines, fiber optic cables or other facilities.
The CMU students have been good hires, Tuckers said, in bringing a high level of engagement and expertise to their jobs. “We also offer a platform that intrigues them.”
Tucker said he anticipates growing demand for students trained in computer science who can work with not only geographic information systems, but also cybersecurity.
Tucker proposed starting an advisory board that would develop ways to keep local talent local.
Along with the new degree program with CU in electric and computer engineering, Foster said CMU also offers more training as well as services in cybersecurity.
But Foster also said he and other administrators at CMU remain open to suggestions from business owners and managers about how to better prepare students for the workforce. “If we don’t know what’s broken, we can’t fix it,” he said.