100 years of Phoenix College: Campus celebrates centennial in Arizona

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Nearly 100 years ago, Phoenix College — then Phoenix Junior College — became the first of its kind in Arizona.

Now, in 2020, the Maricopa County Community College District, which includes Phoenix College, is 10 schools strong with no apparent signs of slowing down.

Sept. 13, 2020 will officially mark 100 years of Phoenix College, known to be one of the oldest community colleges in the United States.

First opening its doors to 18 students and housed in three small cottages on the Phoenix Union High School campus near Taylor Street and 6th Avenue, Phoenix College now boasts an enrollment of over 12,000 on 50 acres near 11th Avenue and Thomas Road.

In late January, administrators, staff, alumni and current students gathered inside the John Paul Theatre to celebrate the upcoming centennial with an ode to years past by unveiling items stored in a time capsule.

“This is very memorable for the institution,” said Dr. Larry Johnson Jr., who became the first African American president of the college in 2018. “It’s the hope that people will look at this event as celebratory but also a preface to where the institution is going, how we will serve students in a different way, how we will serve our community.”

Items displayed at the Jan. 28 event included a 1995 proclamation from then Gov. Fife Symington, electronics like mobile phones and Nintendo gaming products, and Phoenix College memorabilia.

It’s been 25 years since the college celebrated its last quarter of existence. Back then, Dr. Johnson was preparing to go to high school in south Florida. PC Director of Development Deborah Spotts was also back east. And Marie Sullivan, president of the MCCCD governing board, was raising her two children, working, and taking classes at Phoenix College, which she had done since the 1980s.

Ms. Spotts said she was in the prime of her youth in the 1990s, a time she remembered for advancements in technology. The internet was becoming a part of everyday life, as were mobile phones. Since then, she has received multiple degrees from Arizona schools and has worked at various colleges in the nation Today, she oversees the Phoenix College Alumni Association.

For Ms. Sullivan, she remembers the campus not being quite as expensive, the older buildings, and the college still having a very strong place in the community. She sat on the president’s advisory board, facing the challenges of funding growth.

Now, along with her board duties, Ms. Sullivan runs her own business and has been involved in economic and workforce development, education, and women and family issues for over 40 years.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge where we’ve been so we can know better where to go,” Ms. Sullivan said. “I realize that could be a trite statement, but I believe you build on your foundation, you build on the vision that created the college. The vision was to be a community partner to educate the students, to help them on their futures. I haven’t seen that change. If anything, I’ve seen it reinforced.”

Notable alumni of Phoenix College include Chief Kara Kalkbrenner of the Phoenix Fire Department, meteorologist Royal Norman of 3TV/CBS 5, and Jessica McDonald, who helped lead the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team to the 2019 World Cup.

Looking ahead to the next 25 years, leaders hope to see Phoenix College make a global impact and become an even more inclusive institution.

“This institution has welcomed people of all colors and ages and everything for its entire history,” Ms. Spotts said. “I’m just excited to keep providing more opportunities to increase access to higher education. We know for a lot of students... they can’t afford it or they’re the first in the family to go to school. We’re working really hard to break down those barriers and make sure that everybody gets access to education.”

Phoenix College officials are publishing a book that reminisces at the past 100 years, but also looks ahead toward the future. The book is expected to be finished by the end of summer, before the Sept. 13 centennial.

“I’m looking for the college to be more engaged in the community where we’re inviting them to the college for events like this,” Dr. Johnson said. “I want our college to be perceived as a destination that all high school students and adult learners would want to come because they feel like home, they feel valued, they feel appreciated.”

Click here to learn more about Phoenix College’s centennial.

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