Pima Community College Leadership Spotlight
Q&A with Dean Greg Wilson, the Leader Behind the Applied Technology Program
Pima Foundation and Pima Community College are partners in shaping the future of Tucson. Together, we build students up to reach their goals within and beyond the classroom. Our teams are made up of a diverse group of innovators, visionaries and leaders, driven by their own experiences with education and dedicated to student success. Follow along as we share their stories through our brand new spotlight series that shines light on the hardworking community behind PCC.
Our first interviewee is Greg Wilson, Dean of Applied Technology. After nearly 20 years as a part of the College’s community, Wilson is a leader among the PCC team who considers how to support students through innovation, workforce development initiatives and applied learning opportunities. Learn more about the obstacles and successes he has encountered throughout his journey with the Q&A below.
Share with us a little bit about your journey / background.
I graduated from the University of Virginia and earned my master’s degree from Duke University. My wife finished her master’s degree the year after me, and we took that flexible moment in time to load a U-Haul and move from North Carolina to Florida.
We settled in Gainesville, and I became a project manager/associate editor for National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), developing technical curricula with industry experts across the country. During a three-day NCCER training in New Orleans, I sat next to a Dean from Pima Community College who mentioned that she would be hiring someone to manage some of PCC’s national training partnerships. I applied, and I’ve been working at the College since 2001. I have been serving as PCC’s Dean of Applied Technology since 2014.
What challenges have you faced as an African-American?
I’ve faced the usual challenges that many minorities face: being called names, being followed or rushed while shopping in stores, being questioned or made to feel unsafe when doing everyday things. It’s important not to let others’ deficiencies stop us from doing the things we want to do.
How has education helped you get where you are today?
Education has given me the opportunity to meet people and to experience many situations that I would not have encountered otherwise. For example, during my master’s program, I served as a chaplain in the emergency ward of the local hospital.
When you walk into a room and are asked to address a family surrounding the bed of a relative who died minutes ago, it gives you a different perspective on what matters.
Clichés and fluff answers don’t cut it.
Those types of encounters help you relate to others in a more fundamental way. Interacting with others in diverse settings helped me build the confidence to lead a division of 100 incredible faculty, staff, and adjunct faculty members making great changes for Pima Community College.
How do you feel you are making a difference at PCC?
I am making a difference at PCC by leading and supporting a team of talented, hard-working faculty and staff who give so much of themselves to see our students succeed.
The Applied Technology division of Pima Community College wants to feature the best technical programs in the country. For us, the technical skills are a given. In the limited amount of time we have to train our students, we know we need to teach them how to use a scan tool and diagnose an engine repair or how to tram a head or how to run a bead or how to troubleshoot a robot’s control system. It’s showing them how to think critically and act confidently where they will make a difference, whether that’s for a local employer or for themselves when they start their own business.
We’ve had Welding students win a state-wide competition on their first try; we’ve had an Aviation student place second in a national competition; we’ve had a Building & Construction student compete at the national skills competition; and, we’ve had Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Machining students participate in the Design Days competition at the University of Arizona’s Engineering school. The CAD student’s work helped her team win a cash prize (out of 116 teams). All this has occurred in the last few years while working in cramped labs and classrooms. Imagine what our faculty and staff will help our students achieve when our Center of Excellence for Applied Technology is complete and our Aviation Technology Center doubles in size.
What struggles or obstacles have you faced in your career? How have you overcome them?
When you encourage your team to deliver the best technical programs in the country, you are constantly assessing what’s being done. A program review process can be arduous, and reviewing course outlines and syllabi can be slow, tedious work. But evaluation is necessary to identify areas for improvement.
The struggle comes when a team member isn’t willing to go in a new direction. Part of a leader’s job is holding team members accountable and when someone isn’t willing to self-reflect and adjust, the leader needs to take action. First to remove the obstacle, and next to show the team members that are striving toward the goal that their efforts matter. Overcoming that type of obstacle requires direct conversations and possibly lots of documentation. That effort is easier when you weigh it against your responsibility to the team.
Why is Pima Foundation important in your work at PCC?
Pima Foundation is important to the work of the Applied Technology division in several ways. It has provided scholarships to our students; it has connected us with industry partners that highlight our programs through community events; it provides community partners and donors a method for financially supporting our programs; and, its team and board members provide support and guidance to our programs.
How does PCC and the Foundation keep Tucson thriving?
PCC and the Foundation keep Tucson thriving by providing opportunities for everyone to learn skills that can change their lives. I am thinking of a particular Machining student who had been working as a bartender. He recently started working at a local manufacturing shop, and they have been moving him around to learn different facets of their operation. That’s a success story at any time, but when you factor in that bars are closed because of the virus, that’s an example of a Tucsonan thriving.
I have another one: one of our students had dropped out of high school and been homeless prior to arriving in Tucson. She came to PCC for our Adult Basic Education/IBEST program and earned her GED while taking courses in our Automated Industrial Technology (AIT) program. That’s a lot of educational acronyms meaning she earned a certificate in the fundamentals of automated/robotic systems which led to two job offers.
PCC is full of stories like this. Whether they’re students coming from high school or the university, or incumbent workers looking to learn a skill that will lead to a promotion, we hope that our focus on developing a skilled workforce will meet our local industry needs and also attract new businesses to Pima County. We want to help drive our economy.
How does your program keep Pima thriving?
The Applied Technology programs are driven by industries that are constantly changing. Since industry drives our division, we are continuously improving our curricula, equipment, and competencies; and our faculty are always enhancing their skills. It’s an ongoing process that occurs in our division and across the District. That never-ending motion is what keeps Pima Community College thriving.
How do you keep students thriving?
When I started my position, I acknowledged that a primary focus for me was supporting our faculty and staff so they could help our students realize their goals. Sometimes that means working with faculty/staff and industry partners to better understand industry needs. Using that knowledge may mean aligning one of our programs to a specific industry accreditation, or it may mean encouraging faculty to spend time on a local company’s floor learning the strengths and weaknesses of an expensive piece of equipment. That level of engagement enables us to spend our funding more wisely because we avoid wasting time and resources on things that won’t benefit our students.
We want to implement practices that strengthen our students’ skill sets and imagination like touring industry partners’ shops, or establishing internships and apprenticeships or other forms of work-based learning. We support their participation in competitions and we push them to stretch their abilities.
We also purchase leading technology and teach students how to use it, so when they are hired, they can walk into their employer and get their robotic system up and running again. Then after a few years in industry and a couple of promotions, we welcome them back as an adjunct faculty member, so they can show a new generation of students how it’s done. True story.
Is there anything else about your experience that you would like to share with the community?
PCC is committed to our students and our community. Our doors are open. We encourage you to come see what we’re doing. You may be surprised.
Give back to your community and help transform student lives through higher-education. To show your support of Greg Wilson’s work with the Applied Technology department and its students, visit https://pimafoundation.org/donate-online/ and designate your gift to “Applied Technology Support Program” today.
The views expressed in the above are those of the interviewees. All opinions expressed do not reflect those of Pima Foundation, Pima Community College, or its affiliates.