Great Bay Community College Enters New Era

11/26/2013 by Leonard Stuart

(Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series that will run in the magazine over the next year focusing on each of the seven community colleges and the investments being made in them.)

The opening of Great Bay Community College’s second campus in early July—a 17,000-square-foot facility in Rochester boasting technology lab facilities in addition to classrooms, computers and academic support services—is the latest step in the long evolution of an institution that started in an old button factory in Portsmouth at the end of World War II.

The college’s Advanced Technology & Academic Center (ATAC), near the Lilac Mall in Rochester, is at the epicenter of some seismic shifts in NH’s economy and its community college system. While all of the state’s community college campuses have expanded their offerings in advanced manufacturing technologies, ATAC will provide training for an emerging sector in the state.

A total of 440 students have enrolled at ATAC since the $4.5 million center opened in May in advance of the formal kickoff in July. Of those, 16 signed up for advanced composites manufacturing courses for the term that began in June, and another 15 have enrolled for the fall. The advanced composites manufacturing courses were developed in conjunction with two large corporations that are ramping up a major production facility in Rochester. The co-located facility to be run by Albany Engineered Composites and Safran International will use the latest in woven carbon fiber and resin technologies to make lightweight parts for a new generation of commercial jet engines.

When the AEC/Safran facility reaches full operation sometime next year, it’s expected to produce more than 100,000 parts annually and bring 400 to 500 well-paying jobs to the Seacoast region. Albany International Corp. relocated its headquarters to Rochester in 2010 to support its Albany Engineered Composites subsidiary’s joint venture with Safran, a French company with offices globally.

While NH couldn’t compete with states like Texas or South Carolina in offering tax breaks or financing incentives, it focused on developing the talent pool vital to the company’s success. The ability to partner with Great Bay Community College was critical to attracting Albany to NH and was cited by Vice President Joe Biden as a model of academic-business cooperation.

Susan Siegel, vice president of investor relations and corporate communications for Albany International, says operations like Albany’s in Rochester create a major demand for “mid-level” education: more than high school, but less than a bachelor’s degree.

That’s what Hayley Corliss of Somersworth is banking on. The 28-year-old mother of a young son had been working in fast food and light manufacturing jobs and had gone through multiple layoffs before starting the advanced manufacturing program in June.  She’d been told by several potential employers she just didn’t have the skills they needed.

Now she’s aiming for one of those AEC/Safran jobs when she completes the certificate program in December. She’s leaning toward CNC—computer numerical controlled technologies—even though she admits her math skills aren’t the best. “The teachers are great,” she says, making sure everyone in the 16-student class was at the same level before proceeding. AEC and Safran representatives have informally visited with the students in the composites program, but haven’t started talking jobs yet.  Interviewing is expected to start soon for positions to be filled in January.

However, the skills the advanced manufacturing program imparts—advanced manufacturing, robotics, process control and automation, and more—aren’t exclusively focused on AEC/Safran. Other employers in the area, including Lonza Biologics and Sig Sauer also need employees with similar skills for work that requires a high degree of precision and intelligence to meet microscopic tolerances.

A Business Partner

While ATAC may be its new centerpiece, that’s hardly all there is to Great Bay Community College. Its renovated home on Corporate Drive in Portsmouth blends seamlessly into the landscape of office buildings and corporate headquarters that define NH’s successful redevelopment of the defunct Pease Air Force Base. It mirrors Great Bay’s training and educational offerings, meshing with the increasingly technological future of the Seacoast and the wider region.

Eric Dodier is the CEO of PixelMedia, an all-things-digital professional services company down the road at the Pease Tradeport, and he has high praise for the open and collaborative atmosphere at Great Bay.

Dodier says companies like his have frequent needs for the latest skills to build software applications and interactive solutions: open-source knowledge, social media, and other skills that haven’t made it into the standard bachelor’s degree curriculum.  A small school like Great Bay is able to respond more nimbly to changes in the market than a large university.

“We try to be a resource for them as they evolve their curriculum,” says Dodier, who frequently speaks with Great Bay President Will Arvelo. “We’ve gotten very involved in helping them build their curriculum, because very often that’s the shortage that will mean we grow our business or not. We’ve taken a long term approach and said if we can help the school, we can fill our own pipeline and not have to transplant from Boston or elsewhere,” he says.

Great Bay is unique among NH’s community colleges offering a surgical technology program, which trains people for non-clinical support functions such as setting up operating rooms.  Enrollment is capped at 20 students per term.

Until a program was started at UNH recently, Great Bay was also the only one in the state with a veterinary technology course. Enrollment in the veterinary tech program is capped at 40 per term and 74 are currently enrolled in the program.  Great Bay has also responded to the needs of other industries. At the behest of state tourism industry officials, the college developed a hospitality major to prepare entry-level hires to move into higher and management positions in the tourism industry. And in January 2014, it will introduce a welding program for area manufacturers that will teach everything from basic skills to advanced high-tech methods. It will also qualify students to test for American Welding Society national certification.

The college’s most popular majors, according to latest-available figures for fall 2012, were nursing, teacher preparation, criminal justice and computer technologies, followed by liberal arts/business and veterinary technology. Increasingly popular majors include programs in health care: nursing, massage therapy, health information technology and medical technology administration. Since 2008, more than 95 percent of Great Bay’s nursing students passed the RN licensing examination.

A Gateway College

Transfer students are a key part of the mix at Great Bay, using the school as an inexpensive launching pad for further education. At about $6,000 a year for a full-time program, many students and parents are finding it makes sense to start out at GBCC and transfer to a four-year school, eased by Great Bay’s transfer partnerships statewide.

The latest agreement is with the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics at UNH. The GBCC agreement maps course selection to support university entrance and seamless transfer into four-year business programs at UNH. Other transfer pathways have previously been established for the colleges of Life Science and Agriculture, Engineering and Physical Science, and Nursing at UNH.

And the school is working closely with Granite State College, which shares space in Great Bay’s building on Corporate Drive, to allow students to continue working toward a bachelor’s degree at the same site.

Customized Training

Great Bay also serves numerous smaller companies in the region with custom-designed training programs through its Business and Training Center, a self-supporting unit run by Lin Tamulonis, vice president of Corporate and Community Education. The business center can serve 10 companies per term.  It is currently providing basic training for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employees entering industrial trades at the facility.

Enrollment at Great Bay has leveled off in the last couple of years, according to President Will Arvelo, after steady growth of about 5 percent annually for several years. The college serves about 2,500 students per term, or about 1,500 full-time equivalents, since about three-quarters of students are part-time.

Arvelo hopes to capitalize on ATAC’s success. He’s working with the economic development directors of nearby Seacoast communities—Portsmouth, Rochester, Somersworth and Dover—to promote the area globally as a locale with a ready workforce where companies specializing in aeronautics can start new operations. Great Bay was recently featured in marketing materials at the Paris Air Show.

“We want to support business and industry both in what’s here now and what we can attract,” Arvelo says.

Business NH Magazine