CompanyWeek Q&A: Greg Wilson, Pima Community College

By Angela Rose | Oct 25, 2022


Pima Community College's evolving Center of Excellence in Applied Technology includes a 100,000-square-foot state-of-the-art Advanced Manufacturing building currently under construction. CompanyWeek recently spoke with Greg Wilson, Dean of Applied Technology, to learn more about the $35 million investment.

CompanyWeek: What prompted Pima Community College to make such a large investment in its manufacturing programs?

Greg Wilson: It started when our Chancellor, Lee Lambert, joined Pima in the summer of 2013. He had a vision for what Pima could do to improve our technical programs so that they would align with the needs of industry and expectations of our students.

Photos Jonathan Castner

We held an industry summit in the fall of 2017. Once we had identified the funding through an internal revenue bond, we wanted to work closely with our industry and community partners as well as faculty, staff, and students. It was a very engaging, all-day session with 120 industry members. That kind of provided our guidelines. Then we held separate meetings with industry members and industry advisories. And that all helped drive us to where we are now: building the Center of Excellence in Applied Technology.

CW: What can you tell us about how the project is progressing?

GW: The first phase of the project was the Automotive Technology and Innovation Center. The Automotive Technology program moved from a 10,000-square-foot space into a 50,000-square-foot lab. The program is aligned with ASE standards, and we’ve also introduced OEM training. Ford is our first OEM partner on site. We also partner with Chrysler, Stellantis, Subaru, and GM, too.

Phase two of the project is our Aviation Technology program. Its footprint is being expanded from about 35,000 square feet to over 80,000 square feet. This program -- rather than being on the downtown campus -- is in the Aviation Technology Center by the airport here in Tucson.

Phase three -- the part you’re probably most interested in -- is the new three-story, 100,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing building.

The fourth phase will be renovating the old building on the other side of campus to allow our Building and Construction program to go from 2,500 square feet to 25,000 square feet. The Workforce Development team will also be moving to the downtown campus, and we'll be renovating our biology labs as well.

CW: You're right that our readers are interested in advanced manufacturing. In fact, many of the companies in our community are metal fabricators, machine shops, and other businesses that are in dire need of additional employees who can engineer new products, run CNC machines and lathes, weld, and more. What's the plan for the new Advanced Manufacturing building?

GW: While we had previously upgraded our programs, we hadn't upgraded our facilities. They were preventing us from not only growing, but also serving the community's needs. The new building will house our Automated Industrial Technology, Computer-Aided Design, Machining, and Welding programs. And the themes of the building are speed, convergence, and adaptability.

As far as speed, because we'll have more room and more equipment, we're more quickly able to address the community's needs. And when you look at convergence, this building is going to be a community hub. Construction should be completed by the end of November, and we have our first event scheduled for the first week of December. Then we'll be moving programs in over the spring semester and summer before we have the grand opening in fall of 2023.

Adaptability is the third theme that I mentioned, and it's built into this building. One the second floor, there's a 10,000-square-foot Flexible Industry Training Lab. We call it the FIT lab, and it will allow us to train more of our industry partners' workers in machining, welding, and prototyping. Because of limited space, we could previously only run these courses on Friday mornings when our open enrollment classes were not scheduled.

The building also features two five-ton cranes with the combined capacity to lift 10 tons on the north end of the building and carry it across the span of the building from north to south. There are points within the structure where you can lower loads.

And another example of adaptability is on our third floor, where we'll also have a business incubator across from the faculty offices.

CW: How do you see business incubation fitting into advanced manufacturing training?

GW: If a student who wants to be an engineer starts out in a community college, and they go through hands-on programs like computer-aided design, machining, and welding, and then transfer to a four-year engineering program, they’re undoubtedly going to be a better engineer because it's not theoretical to them. They've actually done it, so they'll go into the design process with a different mentality than someone who started in a four-year program and has just done the theory.

That's kind of where the business incubator comes in. We'll have entrepreneurs coming in and bouncing ideas off each other in the conference spaces and collaborative spaces on the third floor. Then they might take their ideas down to the first floor, where we'll have an Idea Lab just off our Machining Lab. It will have tools and workspaces where someone can come in and formulate an idea, taking it to prototype and fabrication to test it out. Our students will be exposed to all of this because it's not just about training them to become an entry-level technician for someone else. Some of them may decide they want to start their own businesses.

CW: The building sounds like it's going to be very cool. Are there any other innovative features?

GW: The whole three-story building is basically a huge makerspace. You've got the heavy equipment, the design tools, the robotics, and everything else spread throughout the building. And we've also included 12 working pods, where we can house projects that students from the University of Arizona and students from Pima are working on together for the Craig Berge Design Day competition. The pods are secure spaces where they'll have a monitor and computer, a working table, and access to all of the other resources in the Advanced Manufacturing building.

When it all comes together, it's going to be really exciting.