Whitney Benefits Gifts Sheridan College Over $11 Million
(Sheridan, Wyo) Edward A. Whitney died 100 years ago today and, to mark the occasion, Whitney Benefits held a celebration in the Sheridan College Technical Center, including the announcement of a gift of $11,369,000 to Sheridan College.
Included in the gift is support for academic areas including agriculture, computer science, diesel technology, fine and performing arts, machine tool technology, music, nursing, and welding technology. These programs were all selected as potential growth areas, and align with regional economic development priorities.
Also included is support for marketing and recruitment and the creation of a student success program modeled from the current TRIO program at Sheridan college. This program will improve student persistence and completion by utilizing a contemporary mentoring model that goes beyond traditional advising to include comprehensive service, from selecting a career path through acquiring the first job upon completion.
Over the last decade alone, Whitney Benefits has contributed $72.5 million in support to Sheridan College.
The old Technical Center building, built in the 1970’s, is in the process of being completely renovated. Throughout the morning, guided tours offered a sneak peek at the progress. The finished building will be over 50,000 ft.², almost doubling the original space.
The welding, machine tooling, and diesel departments will all receive significant makeovers, each gaining roughly 40% more space. Many more classrooms have already been added, as well as “student hangout” areas that are purposefully located near faculty offices.
Sheridan College Facilities Director and tour guide Kent Andersen was particularly proud of the welding department’s new training floor. He said his favorite part of the project was watching the students get excited about the new equipment. He also said that Weatherby Inc. was very impressed with the machine shop when they visited Sheridan in the process of deciding where they would like to relocate.
Anderson explained that, with classes still happening in the building, phasing the project has been complex, and some construction will continue after graduation.
Sheridan College president Dr. Paul Young made some introductory remarks, recalling the “horrible day” in August of 2013 when a bond measure that would have funded construction was voted down. “The Tech Center was always a priority,” Young said. “Sheridan never gives up, we just find another way.”
Young praised the construction being done and issued a challenge for anyone to define where the new building ends and the new one begins. However, Dr. Young said, “…the most important thing is not visible in the facilities.” He highlighted the ambitions of Governor Mead’s recent Executive Order on Educational Attainment: 67% of adults with a college degree by 2025, and 82% by 2040.
“The days of saying ‘high school is enough’ are over,” Dr. Young said, “and in Wyoming I hear that a lot.” He pointed out that, last year, Sheridan College appeared on the Aspen Institute’s list of the top 150 colleges in the nation, the only one in Wyoming to do so. According to the Aspen Institute, colleges are assessed for exceptional student outcomes in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion (including of a bachelor’s degree after transfer), employment and earnings, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students. Dr. Young credited Whitney Benefits for Sheridan College’s distinctive excellence.
Dr. Young then introduced Whitney Benefits board president, Tom Kinnison who, in turn, asked all former and current Whitney trustees and staff to come forward for recognition.
Kinnison said that we, as a community, have a unique asset in Sheridan College. He explained that, if you graduate from Sheridan college, you’ll get a no interest loan plus $16,000 for college.
Kinnison highlighted the funding challenges the college faces by showing a chart of funds provided from mill revenue, which shows a steep decline in recent decades due to the collapse of the local coalbed methane industry.
Kinnison said that the Whitney grant, referred to as a second-century legacy gift, will add 18 full-time positions, and one part-time position.
“Sheridan is at a turning point,” Kinnison said, but he has two concerns: housing and workforce development.
“Sheridan college is not going to be a star of Wyoming,” Kinnison said. “It’s going to be a star of the entire region.”