CWU, Pierce College winning combination in education

Central Washington University-Pierce County was officially welcomed to its upgraded digs on Friday, with the grand opening of the school’s new home in the Olympic Building at Pierce College in Lakewood.

The new facilities are a step up for Central Washington University, which for more than 25 years has run its Pierce County programs from dilapidated portable buildings at Pierce College’s Fort Steilacoom campus.

Two years ago, the state Legislature shifted money that had been designated for renovation of the portables to fund a third-floor expansion of the Olympic Building.

The $2.3 million, 10,000-square-foot addition includes 5,700-square-feet of dedicated space for CWU-Pierce County. The new space provides administrative and faculty offices, a videoconference room, distance education classrooms and a large commons area that will be shared between the two institutions.

MSGS Architects and Construct, Inc. are the project architect and contractor, respectively.

Officials said the new building will help solidify a relationship between the two schools that has helped many students from the area earn a bachelor’s degree. CWU-Pierce County provides what is known as a “two-plus-two” program in which students complete a transferable associates degree at the community college level and then transfer to CWU to complete their baccalaureate requirements.

Programs offered at CWU-Pierce County include law and justice, psychology and sociology. Pierce College’s Puyallup campus offers courses in electronic engineering technology and math.

Working together as a team, the two schools are unbeatable, said Michele Johnson, president of Pierce College Fort Steilacoom.

“We’ve leveraged our influence and worked hard to forge our partnership,” she said. “It is a combined center for Pierce County.”

CWU’s new home in the Olympic Building provides greater visibility for the university in Pierce County, said Jerilyn McIntyre, CWU president.

“We’re all extremely happy to be here in this new, improved home,” she said.

Participation in the state’s community and technical colleges ranks third in the nation, she observed, while participation in baccalaureate programs is below the national average.

She hopes CWU-Pierce County – along with other CWU co-located campuses in Lynwood, Moses Lake, Wenatchee and Yakima – will increase participation in baccalaureate programs.

The state needs to meet the higher education demands that are required of many of today’s high-tech jobs, she said, and the two-plus-two program is a way to help do that while holding down capital costs.

She praised the combined efforts of the two schools, noting the partnership has allowed place-bound students to complete bachelor’s degrees and take their place in contributing to and supporting the regional community.

One of those students was on hand to tout the benefits of cost-effective education in Pierce County.

“I’m just so happy you guys made it possible,” said Amy Rodriguez, 23, of Puyallup, who will soon receive her degree in pre-law and psychology.

The two-plus-two program allowed her to remain close to her mother, who suffers from hepatitis, while she attends school.

“It’s just been awesome,” an emotional Rodriguez told the audience. “Thank you so much.”