CMC and CNCC joint-proposal approved for state RISE Grant; institutions receive $2.9 million in funding

Funds from the RISE grant will equip 26 high school classrooms throughout northwest central Colorado to CMC smart classrooms, such as this college mathematics class taught by CMC Professor Benedicte Jeanson.

Western Slope school districts will now be able to move ahead with plans to build out technology to increase access for all students.

Colorado Mountain College and Colorado Northwestern Community College teamed up for a proposal that was approved by Governor Polis’ team for the Rise Grant, designed to help Colorado schools with COVID-19 relief.

Matt Gianneschi, the Chief of Staff and Chief Operating Officer at CMC for the past six years, said submitting a proposal with Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC), serving Rio Blanco, Moffat and Routt counties, made the most sense when considering the similarities in the plans each institution had for the grant money.

“CNCC and CMC share a service boundary in Routt County and Grand County, and so we already work with them fairly closely … I was pleasantly surprised that their proposal was almost identical within the intent as ours … there was a lot of natural synergy, we work in the same service area, we really are friendly partners so there really is no competition whatsoever,” Gianneschi said.

CMC applied for the first round of grants but was not selected. Gianneschi said thanks to feedback they received on their proposal from the review committee, they made sure to clarify specific points in their second proposal to provide better insight to what it’s like to live or be a student on the Western Slope.

“When you combine our service areas and then you look at the region from a square mile standpoint … it’s bigger than the states of Massachusetts and Vermont combined … It’s easy to say Western Slope and sort of think of it as being this monolithic, everybody’s the same and they’re all in the same region … those were the kinds of things we were trying to emphasize to help reviewers understand,” Gianneschi said.

Gianneschi said that they also made it clear within the proposal that although many of the concurrent K-12 enrollment schools are in resort towns that attract more affluent tourists, this is not reflective of the families who live and work there.

“We’re trying to help them see some of those numbers that are a little harder to view if you’re only thinking about those in terms of the impressions you have of the names of the regions rather than the students who are actually in the schools,” Gianneschi said.

The approximate breakdown of the grant is $2.1 million for CMC and $750,000 for CNCC. About $686,000 of CMC’s portion will be put towards tuition for the fall and books in an attempt to bring concurrent enrollment back up to where it was prior to the pandemic.

Gianneschi said the technologically enhanced CMC classroom designs are budgeted to be about $55,000 a piece, which includes digitized displays and microphones so faculty and students alike don’t feel so trapped within a 2D, staring at a screen, learning experience.

“They also have these fisheye cameras that do rove in the room so you can kind of see who’s speaking. So, instead of like staring at a camera, the camera will actually look over in the corner and find the person who’s speaking … that level of sensitivity is important because then it feels like you’re in the class, even if you’re not, it feels like it,” Gianneschi said.

The shared goal to build out technology access for students was not just prompted by the pandemic, but something CNCC and CMC felt had the potential to be enhanced respectively to strengthen access and enable students to feel like higher education is still an achievable goal despite all the chaos remaining in the wake of COVID-19.

Gianneschi said that, although recessions in the past have typically increased community college enrollment, this past year was unlike any other.

“Because it was a downturn with a health crisis, a lockdown, basically economic anemia — all of these conditions conspired to create an environment where frankly the number of students in the class of 2020 … (was)the lowest college going rate of the last probably decade or two,” Gianneschi said.

“I hope that whatever we do as we all recover as a community…that we don’t let the pandemic deny our students the hopes they have for education. We have to keep them inspired, we have to help them continue to see college as a possibility.”

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