SJCC Centennial: Trailblazing Career Education for Silicon Valley

“We had a laser program early on. They would shine a laser beam from the 100 building to the library, you’d see this wonderful green beam going across,” said retired faculty member Charles Hunter. “They had to work with the FAA because it’s not legal to direct laser beams in the air.”

Many students, faculty and staff surely remember this nighttime laser display, which for a time had approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It was intended to celebrate and promote SJCC’s Laser Technology Department in the eighties. To this day, the program continues to be the only one of its kind in northern California. 

This is a prime example of our philosophy towards career education, which is both pioneering and mindful. At SJCC, staying relevant and connected to surrounding industries is just as important as preparing confident and capable students. Much has changed over the last century, but our core values remain the same. 

Technical Education in A Different Era

San José City College has always designed its courses with the community in mind, but at the inception of San José Junior College, the course catalog looked very different. 

Hunter, who taught in the Reading Department for over 40 years, is also SJCC’s unofficial historian. “The majors offered during the formative years of the junior college were limited and, in the case of technical offerings, reflected the needs of a labor market markedly different from today. In addition to the expected English, Science, Mathematics, Education, Geography, and History, a student could also declare in Agriculture and Home Economics,” Hunter wrote in a brief history of the school.

At the time, SJCC served less than 100 students (and required a dress code) but it was already forward thinking and well connected to the marketplace. This awareness has enabled rapid progress over the years.

“In addition to the expected English, Science, Mathematic, Geography, and History, a student could also declare in Agriculture and Home Economics.”

Charles Hunter, Former Faculty & SJCC Historian

Career Education Mindfully Evolves with Bay Area Industries

According to Hunter’s history, a decade later enrollment hit a remarkable peak of 850 students. This spike in students also marked a boom in the industrial arts.

In addition to a focus on agriculture, the school identified and answered the demand for many new trades. Certificate and apprenticeship programs were developed for construction and automotive technology. And while commercial aviation, communications and radio technology were all growing slowly, the college developed programs for all of them, establishing itself as a trailblazer in career ed. 

Then, there was a building boom on campus between 1954 and 1964. New buildings provided a home for the growing employment-focused programs that would become renowned throughout the bay area and beyond.

SJCC’s Dental Assisting Program was ranked 1st in the nation in 2018.

Award Winning Career Education

Over the years SJCC has developed a wide variety of career education programs from computer chip manufacturing to esthetics. While some programs are now defunct due to jobs moving overseas, the most common trajectory is quite the opposite.

Thanks in large part to dedicated faculty and staff as well as a growing Business & Workforce Division, SJCC’s programs are often recognized for their excellence. In 2018 HVAC ranked 5th, Cosmetology ranked 3rd, and Dental Assisting ranked 1st in the nation. Receiving this distinction is an honor but what matters most to SJCC is whether or not students reach their goals after graduation.

Watch videos about each SJCC’s Career Education Programs

With this measure in mind, many other career ed programs are extremely successful. Programs, like Medical Assisting, Esthetics, and Emergency Medical Services offer clear pathways to employment. These programs are sure to remain popular, but in the past several decades one undeniable industry has come out on top.

Silicon Valley Ready 

San José City College is expanding to help even more students get ready for the abundant and lucrative jobs in the Silicon Valley. From laser technology to recording arts, SJCC’s offerings are evolving with the demands of Bay Area industries. As we celebrate our centennial, two new tech programs stand out — Digital Media Arts (DMA) and Technest. 

Next fall, the new DMA Department will roll out a suite of new and updated courses. They will also debut two certificates in Motion Graphic Design and User Experience and Interaction Design. The department plans to expand even further in the next few years. Many of these programs will be built from scratch in collaboration with the Art Department, an industry advisory board and DMA Department Lead, Jonali Bhattacharyya.

Bhattacharyya, is also the CEO and Founder of her own company and serves as the Lifelong Learning Committee Chair at ACM SIGGRAPH (an international community for individuals who share an interest in computer graphics and interactive techniques). 

“I come from the industry. So I still keep my roots there,” Bhattacharyya said. Thanks to these strong ties to the local marketplace, the advisory board is stacked with experts and professionals who work at Pixar, Google and Electronic Arts (EA). With this expertise and guidance, the DMA Department is sure to remain highly relevant, providing students with the best opportunities possible.

“I come from the industry. So I still keep my roots there.”

Jonali Bhattacharyya, SJCC Digital Media Arts Faculty & CEO

Another key player is the Computer Information Systems (CIS) Department. It has grown steadily in recent years, offering more than 10 professional certificates in areas like web development and computer programming. The most exciting new developments in CIS are under the Technest program. 

In collaboration with UC Berkeley, MIT and Google, CIS faculty have developed clear professional pathways for some of the most sought after jobs in Silicon Valley. For the Technest program, Mark Branom and other faculty have worked tirelessly to improve their newest certificates in Emerging Tech Entrepreneurship; Business and Data Analytics; and Google IT.

SJCC continues to mindfully innovate its programs to best suit community needs, both DMA and Technest are a direct result of these efforts. They provide top-quality affordable education opportunities for students who may not have access to pricier private programs or coding bootcamps.

Building Careers for Today and Tomorrow

This year, just like our career ed offerings, the SJCC campus will also be getting some important updates. There are plans to break ground on the much anticipated Career Education Center, which will construct or renovate 115,000 square feet of building. This modern career complex will help our students prepare for the Silicon Valley jobs of the future, today.

*** Note: An abbreviated version of this article was originally published in the SJCC Centennial insert that appeared in the Sept. 24, 2021 edition of the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

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