Dignitaries attending the ceremony included U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Maryland Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Kelly Schulz.
“This is an important day for Garrett College,” said college President Dr. Richard Midcap, “as opening a state-of-the-art facility that we believe will enhance our ability to provide students in STEM-related fields with a high quality education.”
He said the building features four virtual classrooms; laboratories dedicated to physics/earth sciences, chemistry/microbiology, engineering/robotics and biology; student spaces to encourage informal learning and sharing; and a faculty wing that will “facilitate cooperative teamwork.”
“This is an incredible asset to the state of Maryland and to this region,” Cardin, D-Md., said. “Congratulations to all the partners.”
Maryland understands the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math,) he said, citing a new state-of-the-art cybercenter at the Naval Academy, a engineering facility at College Park and educational opportunities at Allegany College of Maryland.
“This is the economic future of our country,” Cardin said, “and Garrett College has that capacity here in a rural county.”
Construction of the STEM project began in May 2017 with renovation of the college’s Continuing Education Building. Administrative and Continuing Education offices and classrooms are now located in the Garrett Information Enterprise Center.
The state and the county each contributed 50 percent of the funding for the project, noted Don Morin, GC Board of Trustees chairman.
“The Appalachian Regional Commission contributed grant funding that allowed the college to purchase state-of-the-art equipment, mostly a 3D virtual dissection table,” he said, noting that Garrett is the only college in the state with this technology.
“It is a very special honor to be here today to take this next step for Garrett College in making sure your students and members of the community have access to cutting-edge STEM tools,” said Van Hollen, D-Md. “This is going to be a great opportunity for people to get those life skills and workforce skills that allow them to get good paying jobs in our community.”
He said Garrett County has been a “pioneer” when it comes to opening the doors of college to every one of its residents. He cited the Garrett County Scholarship Program, which now includes both academic and vocational students.
“Rural areas, more that any other area, have to be in this state, an approximation dedicated to specifics in skills that are going to feed into their community needs,” Schulz said.
She said STEM is the state’s leading demand, but the Department of Labor cannot determine what specific jobs will be available for young people in the next 10 years.
“But we know that STEM is going to be a part of those careers in some way, shape or form,” Schulz said. “So for every community college, for every K through 12 educational system across the state, to be able to provide those resources to our young people is critical in development of the workforce of the future.”
State Sen. George Edwards said the STEM dedication was a great day for Garrett College, Garrett County and the surrounding area.
“This brings us into the modern age in STEM-related issues,” he said, noting that all levels of government worked together to make the project possible.
He congratulated the various groups and individuals that participated in the effort.
“We used a construction firm, which employed a lot of local people, which is a good thing,” the senator said. “It helped keep money in the community.”
He pointed out the college’s other recently completed amenities, including a modern library and the Community Aquatic and Recreation Complex.
“How many community colleges have a facility such as that?” the senator said of the CARC. “Then add this (STEM) facility to it. Hopefully, next year we can start on the next project, which will be a performing arts center, and this institution will have a lot of modern facilities.”
He stressed, however, that facilities do not make the institution.
“People who work here do,” Edwards said. “We have great, outstanding people who do a good job.”
Delegate Wendell Beitzel noted he grew up and worked on a farm just a mile-and-a-half from where the college was constructed.
He provided a brief history of the institution, noting it was established in 1967 as Garrett Community College.
“We’re now 50 years into Garrett Community College here in Garrett County,” Beitzel said, “50 years of growth here in our small county.”
He noted the institution’s name was changed to Garrett College in 2002.
“Construction is now completed on this new state-of-the-art STEM building,” Beitzel said, commending those who were involved in the transformation of the Con Ed Building. “The next step in moving forward is the Performing Arts Center.”
He said funding for its design and engineering has been accrued, and state funding for construction will “follow shortly.”
“STEM’s the word,” said Garrett County Commissioner Paul Edwards, who also works for the public schools system. “It’s pre-K to 12, and it’s certainly post secondary. If you’re not dealing with STEM, if you’re not focusing on STEM, if you’re not investing in STEM, then you’re losing.”
He indicated the “jobs of now,” as well as the future, revolve around STEM.
“It’s just amazing to think that our county, one of the smallest (population wise) counties in the state, one of the poorest counties in the state per capita income, one of smallest community colleges can put a facility like this together to represent our kids and our future,” the commissioner said.
The building dedication included ribbon-cutting ceremonies, room dedications honoring of donors and foundation representatives, a meet-and-greet session with STEM faculty, self-guided tours and a robotics competition.