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Western Wyoming Community College Expands to Meet the Needs of Growing Economy

New Workforce Training Center helps prepare students for jobs in oil, gas and mining industries

By Teree Caruthers on August 12, 2014

Wellness Center at Western Wyoming Community College
Rock Springs / Michael D.Tedesco

Since its founding in 1959, Western Wyoming Community College has supplied businesses in and around Sweetwater County with a steady supply of trained talent and provided industries with a variety of workforce development services. So when the oil, gas and mining industries needed to ramp up production, industry leaders turned to the college for help. With the local economy booming and an increasing need for more skilled workers, college officials soon realized an expansion was necessary to meet this new demand.

The Center of Success

In January 2014, the college’s $1.6 million Workforce Training Center opened, equipped with extra-large classrooms and workspace and state-of-the-art equipment donated by private partners, including Halliburton, BP and trona mining companies. The college designed degree and certificate programs specifically to meet the needs of these industries and hosts ongoing safety training and orientation for employees.

WWWC’s workforce development efforts extend beyond the campus into area schools as well. The college partners with businesses and Sweetwater County Schools to sponsor an Energy Academy, through which Rock Springs High School students can earn college credit for taking courses and interning in energy-related fields.

The college’s workforce development efforts are paying off for students as well. Leach says WWCC has a graduation rate of 46 percent – higher than any other college or university in the state, and higher than the national average. She says the college’s symbiotic relationship with the business community contributes to student success.

“Our industry partners are here on campus, and they’re extremely active,” says WWCC President Karla Leach, PhD. “They hire our students for internships, and they hire them for very good jobs when they graduate.”

The ROI of QOL

Research shows site selectors and relocation professionals rank a region’s quality of life among the top factors impacting relocation and expansion decisions, and Leach is quick point out the role the college plays in elevating the region’s livability.

The college’s new Exercise Science and Wellness Center features state-of-the-art fitness and exercise equipment and is used as a classroom and training facility for students in WWCC’s exercise science program. The center is also open to students and the public for a nominal fee.

“We’ve always had a community-focused fitness center,” Leach says, “but the Wellness Center gives us that added classroom space, so our students can get hands-on training to become fitness trainers and professionals in exercise science.”

That hands-on training gives students an advantage.

“The exercise science program at Western is unique to other undergraduate programs because of the early hands-on experience and internships they offer as part of the program,” says program graduate Elizabeth Isom. “Many students do not receive hands-on experience until their junior or senior year of college. I feel that because I was able to complete my degree at Western, I had a head start over many other students at the university level.”

Leach says the college also opens the campus to the public for a host of educational and cultural programs, such as its speakers and writers tour, theater performances and exhibits at the Natural History Museum. WWCC also operates a Children’s Center, which provides preschool classes for children of faculty, students and staff.

“When WWCC was established, leaders had a great desire to serve the entire community. For example, when the energy industry started growing and workers started moving in, the college was a way for those trailing spouses to connect to the community,” Leach says. “When people come to [Sweetwater County] to live, we want them to know that this is their community college.”

“When people come to [Sweetwater County] to live, we want them to know that this is their community college.”

Dr. Karla Leach
President, Western Wyoming Community College
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