Into the Future: Extending TMCC's Legacy Forward

TMCC President Dr. Karin Hilgersom and the proposed East View building.
Rebecca A. Eckland

TMCC’s 50th Anniversary Celebration will end the way it began, with the sounds of pomp and circumstance as graduates once again cross the commencement stage. Perhaps it’s by no mistake that a celebration of fifty years is bookended by student success: for a half a century, that has been the work that has kept TMCC as an integral part of our community’s on-going growth, evolution and success: a dedication to the students whose life-courses are altered when they decide to pursue education. 

Certainly, over the years many things have changed; from one temporary location to four permanent ones throughout the community. Change might be the word that defines the first fifty years of TMCC’s existence. 

“TMCC’s expansion and growth runs the gamut of evolving programs, program design, incorporating new technologies into the classroom and other learning spaces, while raising the bar for support services offered to students free-of-charge,” said Dr. Karin Hilgersom.  “This has been a long and heartfelt legacy; one that opens the possibility for not only looking back at where TMCC has been, but also to what the next fifty years will bring.” 

Advances in Technology

Although the role of technology has inarguably become more important over the years, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to consider–perhaps at a quicker clip than we would have wanted–the increasingly intertwined relationship between evolving technologies and the way students learn. Before 2020, the notion of using Zoom to facilitate a class as a primary method of delivering instructional content would have seemed, perhaps, odd; these days, it is a necessary tool that most instructors will inevitably use moving forward to accommodate students both near and far. 

Yet, technological enhancements have far beyond Zoom; in the past few years, TMCC faculty have pioneered technologies that rely on artificial intelligence (AI) to offer students individualized and responsive feedback. 

Packback is one such technology that taps into students’ curiosity to facilitate lessons not only in course engagement, but that also teach them (implicitly) how to ask better questions. Although faculty in Biology were the first to implement the Packback technology, it’s now being used across several disciplines. The advantages are many: students receive feedback not from the “teacher” but from the AI itself, encouraging interaction with their peers in the class in meaningful discussions, engaging with course material in ways that goes far beyond rote memorization. 

And yet, the path forward isn’t just about infusing education with technology. Students crave in-person and hands-on experiences. “Those are the things we remember as people,” said TMCC President Dr. Karin Hilgersom. “We have wonderful online instructors and classes, but we’ve got to be careful because an online class can be lonely when students are left to themselves on the computer, scrolling reading and writing. It’s a very traditional way of learning, and that’s becoming a hard pill for students to swallow, especially after the last few years. That traditional educational model is not going to keep students engaged or excited,” she said. 

Dr. Hilgersom is quick to point out that the changes in instructional design inspired by the challenges of COVID-19 are certainly opening the door to the next evolution of education. “Instructors are using compressed videos, they are available to students nearly 24/7, and they’ve mastered using Zoom to foster real-time dialogue. But, the next crop of students are going to have higher expectations,” she said. “In the next 50 years, it is going to be about balance and experiential learning.”

A return to interactive, hands-on experiences like undergraduate research, internships and other “real life” simulations will punctuate classroom spaces alongside technologies like virtual reality, where VR goggles can invite students into far away places without them having to leave the classroom or their living rooms. Imagine: archeology students traveling the pyramids in Egypt or architecture students touring the innovative spaces of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright.  

“That kind of technology is a window into what’s next and it will affect education,” she said. 

EastView: A Beacon

There’s more to the reality that the sun rises in the East: this is the side of the TMCC Dandini Campus that will one day host a new innovative space where students will receive a new kind of interactive, hands-on and transparent training that will lead them into the future. 

“EastView is going to be the beacon for our future because it offers learning spaces that are hands-on and transparent, and that focus on the integration of robotics, AI coding, along with the entertainment industry, which includes hospitality, tourism, culinary and performing arts and theater,” said Dr. Hilgersom. “If you look at the architectural drawings, you’ll see there’s glass everywhere: so you can walk through the building and see what students are doing…with emphasis on the word doing. Whether they’re building a robot, cooking a wonderful lunch, building a theatrical set or using computer code to map out the lighting for a play. EastView articulates where much of education is going at TMCC: the integration of several disciplines, technology and the entertainment industry, but also students taking an active role in their own learning under the guidance of faculty.” 

Looking fifty years into the future, education isn’t “just” about one goal anymore; rather, it’s multi-faceted and it will be hands-on, and not at all the domain of a single classroom. Education will be applicable, real, forward-facing: it will ask students not only to understand what is, but what could be possible. After all these various industries, from coding to culinary skill sets that can create ex nihilo: forward-thinking that can build possibilities from the ground up. 

Additionally, TMCC will continue to create academic and training programs that align with the needs of our community and local industry. Fifty years ago, these were associate degrees in nursing, business, radiologic technology, and fire science, among others. Today, TMCC’s up-and-coming academic programs include an associate of science degree in data science, a high-tech and high-information career in which students can land desirable (and high-demand) jobs with a two year degree. TMCC will also be the first college in Nevada to offer a Bachelor of Architecture degree, a five-year program that prepares students directly for the workplace. 

“These are professional degrees that are designed to serve the needs of our region. I think for the next fifty years, we will continue to respond to our local, regional economies. That way, our students can enter these careers in which they can find professional fulfillment, and help us to build a stronger, more resilient community,” said Dr. Hilgersom. 

Sustainable Futures

Although TMCC has arguably been invested in local economies and ecologies since its inception, a more recent aspect of its history and legacy have been commitments toward championing sustainable futures that can combat climate change. “We’re going to test our resiliency as a result of global climate change,” said Dr. Hilgersom, who cited the somewhat recent addition of a distinct “fire season” in our area that will impact not just Northern Nevada, but the entire world. 

“This is a problem that is not going to go away. We have a lot of work to do, and TMCC can play a pivotal role in making sure the workforce is prepared,” said Dr. Hilgersom, outlining two direct degree and training pathways. 

In response to this need, a Regional Training Center for wildfire professionals and other emergency management personnel is already in the planning stages. “That kind of facility will help us to respond to global climate change…because unfortunately when you look at the science, what’s going to hit us hard are wildfires–we’ve already seen this happening for a few years,” she said. 

The second way TMCC will lead the charge on sustainability initiatives and training will be through new programs that support renewable energy sources. “Assuming a version of the ‘Build Back Better’ legislation passes, we’re going to have to train workers to build new infrastructures around renewable energies,” she said. These workers will need to be able to map lines, understand energy grids and do the heavy lifting as new renewable infrastructures are built.  

Renewable solar, wind and electric vehicles will be built in the United States, creating several new job opportunities– but also opportunities to return balance to the natural world around us. 

“Hopefully, TMCC can be a part of the solution and how TMCC contributes to sustainable, positive changes in the years to come,” she said. 

Extending a Long Legacy Forward

While many aspects of the future may offer new challenges, careers and opportunities, no matter how many changes TMCC has weathered, one aspect of the college has remained steadfast and steady: it’s commitment to student success. Over fifty years ago, Dr. Charles Donnelly–who served as the Community College Division President for the emerging institutions that answered the community’s needs for hands-on, relevant training–said: “Never turn a student away.” 

“That’s still something that separates us from any other educational institution,” said Dr. Hilgersom. “We do not turn students away.” Regardless of the evolution of technologies, changing industry needs or our role in preserving the natural world around us, TMCC’s lifelong institutional legacy will remain steadfast: supporting student success and access to quality education.