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Higher Education Powers Skilled Workforce in Grand Valley, CO

Colorado Mesa University and Western Colorado Community College keep talent flowing to businesses in Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade.

By Teree Caruthers on November 30, 2021

Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, CO
Colorado Mesa University

A key to the Grand Valley’s economic growth is the ability for businesses to tap into a deep and diverse pool of highly skilled workers. The robust network of colleges and universities in Grand Junction — which includes Colorado Mesa University and its two-year division, Western Colorado Community College — works to connect graduates to high-demand jobs and ensure that talent finds its way to growing industries in the region.

For nearly a century, Colorado Mesa University (CMU) has served Grand Valley residents by delivering excellent higher education and postsecondary vocational training across a 14-county region. With an annual enrollment of nearly 11,000, CMU is one of the fastest-growing public universities in the state, offering nearly 120 academic degree programs and vocational certifications.

Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, CO
Colorado Mesa University

“Colorado Mesa University helps fuel workforce development for our community, not just by educating students, but in ensuring that these graduates are prepared to hit the ground running and feel best equipped for an in-demand job market.”

Kelsey Coleman | Colorado Mesa University

Powerful Partnerships

One of the ways the university ensures students are prepared for local in-demand jobs is by working directly with businesses to understand their workforce needs and designing academic programs that respond to them.

“These programs often emerge from discussions between the university and regional business/industry/agency leaders, with the greatest interest coming from employers that face critical staffing shortfalls,” says Kelsey Coleman, media relations manager and senior communications strategist for Colorado Mesa University. “Recognizing the value of leveraging shared resources, these partnerships have led to the creation or expansion of high-demand programs through a ‘grow your own’ approach. Of CMU’s nearly 44,000 alumni, more than half live and work in Mesa County and surrounding communities.”

Another way CMU readies students for life after college is through a robust Career Services program that begins working with students early in their college career. CMU’s Career Services works with groups such as the Grand Junction Economic Partnership to offer pathways for students in the region’s emerging industries.

“CMU prepared me for a business career by turning curiosity into theory and then theory into practice. I went in not knowing anything about business and upon graduation I felt ready. I received a bachelor’s degree in marketing, but my career has now kicked off in operations because CMU opened my eyes to more than what I had originally expected,” says Cody Maynard, a recent CMU graduate and current inventory control analyst at Jabil, an aerospace engineering and manufacturing company in Grand Junction.

“CMU also provides endless opportunities for networking,” he says. “Aside from events and special guests, the relationships you build on campus are critical. One of my professors that I had built a strong relationship with ended up being a strong reference for me when applying for the job I’m currently in.”

STEM-ulating Education

Code Ninjas, which teaches kids coding by creating video games, has opened a location in Grand Junction. Located in the Maverick Innovation Center, Code Ninjas Grand Junction teaches critical thinking, problem solving and STEM skills. Students also learn how to design mobile apps.

Smart Start

CMU’s two-year division, Western Colorado Community College (WCCC), located at CMU’s Tilman M. Bishop Campus, is a partnership of the university and Mesa County Valley School District 51 and serves the technical education needs of both college and area high school students.

The college’s dual enrollment program and summer camps help steer middle and high school students toward local career pathways.

“We have about 450 high school students that are bused to our campus on a daily basis. They take courses that count toward a degree or certificate — all for free — and when they graduate, they not only have college credit, but they also have industry credentials,” says Brigitte Sundermann, vice president of community college affairs at WCCC.

“We also host more than 100 camps during the summer. Students can be a chef one week and a mechanic the next. We’re doing everything we can to get students interested early and help them find their career of choice.”

In addition to offering 30 associate degree and certificate programs in a wide range of fields, from health care to culinary arts, WCCC boasts more than 300 non-credit personal and professional development courses and even works with local employers to customize training for employees.

“We work at trying to help that company meet their needs. We offer customized training through our Community Education Center,” Sundermann says. “We’ve done leadership training, OSHA training, CPR, customized machining courses, customized welding courses, and even anti-harassment training.”

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