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Improvements coming to SRJC-Petaluma

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More than three years after voters approved the $410 million Measure H tax bond, Santa Rosa Junior College – Petaluma is starting to see the fruits of the endowment in the form of numerous campus renovations and program expansions, many of which were championed at last week’s annual campus breakfast.

SRJC president Frank Chong presented an optimistic portrait of the school’s future, blunting criticisms of his performance that made headlines earlier this year by highlighting new initiatives that will make the Petaluma campus more self-sufficient, specifically the solar panels keeping the school net energy zero between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day.

Declining enrollment and a widening budget gap of more than $6.5 million prompted Chong to cancel as much as three quarters of summer classes just days before registration began in March. Amid a roaring backlash he received a vote of no confidence from faculty, and reversed his decision the next day.

While speaking at the June 7 breakfast, Chong made light of the fiasco, inviting humor at his own expense and praised trustees and faculty members throughout his remarks as the administration looked to move forward.

“I feel very, very encouraged that the last few months we’ve been able to work out disagreements that we read about in The Press Democrat,” Chong said. “The future looks bright for Santa Rosa Junior College.”

Many of the speakers touched on the most visible elements of the cash influx from Measure H. The Petaluma campus received $15.7 million and was able to expand its STEM programs, a move that reduces the reliance on the Santa Rosa campus for first-year students.

“Students in biology, anthropology and chemistry can now complete their entire first year here,” said Catherine Williams, dean of instruction and enrollment management. “This expansion will be funded entirely by local dollars.”

She also celebrated the addition of a yoga teacher training certificate, which was fully-enrolled. Audio and video production facilities were expanded, and the vet tech program will be converting a classroom into a state-of-the-art lab.

Last summer, SRJC held its inaugural cybersecurity camp and plans to expand the free offering into two tiers in 2018.

Speaker Leigh Sata, the school’s senior director of capital projects and the author of Measure H, gave a glimpse into his personal life, pointing to the impact of the community college experience for his parents, who were Japanese immigrants and forced to hold off on their education until later in life.

Later in his remarks, Sata shared renderings for various campus upgrades that will help connect the 40-acre campus, including four new courtyards and an outdoor classroom.

“When combined, these plazas and courtyards will tie the campus together,” he said.

Dean of student services Matthew Long honored multiple students involved in his marquee initiative, Petaluma’s Student Success Team, which was recently recognized by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office with a $1.6 million innovation award.

“Since the creation of the Student Success Team, every new student is assigned a peer student success coach with whom they communicate using our own app,” Long said.

In the aftermath of the wildfires, SRJC provided broad support to affected faculty and students. The SRJC Foundation created a relief fund and the Friends of Petaluma Campus Trust made $10,000 in student resource grants available.

Once the two-week closure ended, therapy dogs, remembrance events for victims and healing circles were offered.

“We gave students a space to express themselves,” Williams said.

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)