College Matters | North Coast ideas are materializing

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, February 15, 2024 - 12:30pm

Colleges are great incubators of ideas. When we are at our best, we are generating ideas, evolving practices, and preparing future graduates for a world that is quickly changing.

As an example, a few years ago the idea of a health care hub materialized. On a napkin. The concept was that both College of the Redwoods and Cal Poly Humboldt could share the same space to help meet health care needs in the region. That project now has funding and is being designed.

On that same napkin, the idea to share career services for students, and to locate it in Eureka near many employers, was also formed. Today, that idea is within months of coming to fruition. On a different napkin, actually, this time a notepad, there were ideas for inspiring our campus to pursue more grants and external funding, additional athletic programs, more housing, and much more. Years later, Cal Poly Humboldt has doubled its grant funding, added sports, and is building more housing. Also, further along from its time as a wild idea on a napkin, is the now-completed Child Development Center at the site of the former Trinity Hospital.

Many years ago, when a much younger leader had lots of ideas for improving his community, he decided to run for elected office. He won, and then he did it again, and was elected again. He worked hard, and he earned the respect of peers and constituents. His service started many years ago, and recently culminated in a recent accomplishment last week in Sacramento. Our state Sen. Mike McGuire was sworn in as the Senate president pro tempore, the leader of the California State Senate. It’s the first time a representative from north of Marin County has held the role in 147 years.

Many people were at the ceremony, including Eureka Mayor Kim Bergel, College of the Redwoods President Keith Flamer, and myself. It was a joyous day. Sen. McGuire has shown the North Coast incredible support. Without his support, and without the support of several others, many of those ideas scribbled on napkins may have never materialized.

There are so many great ideas, and today many of them are turning into reality.

What’s happening? I would say it’s simply that the North Coast is having a moment. It’s attracting attention. State and federal investment is flowing in this direction. Private investors are exploring opportunities. Foundations are looking to support us. We’ve been discovered, and it now up to us to decide if that’s for the better or worse.

Understandably, this is still quite a bit to take in. The changes seem faster, but in truth, at the core of the North Coast remain the land, the water, the wind, the fire, the animals, and the people that all define our region. What is happening is less about change and more about resetting and evolving given the opportunities before us.

At this moment when there is interest, enthusiasm, and investment focused on the North Coast, it isn’t about growth. Instead, this is a time when we can show California and the world a different way of living together and lifting up a wider range of people.

There are many examples of the new attention and investment, of course. A more recent one was when our Congressman Jared Huffman shared the astonishing news that the federal government has committed $426 million toward developing our port so that it can support wind energy.

The biggest risk in this moment is that we don’t recognize it and rise to it. This is partly why college matters. To seize the opportunities in many of these emerging industries, students will need education and training at places like the College of the Redwoods and Cal Poly Humboldt. A new battery energy source, the cure for cancer and other ailments, new designs to support wind energy — all will likely come from college graduates.

The North Coast is an amazing place filled with special people who are filled with ideas. I know that on other napkins and notepads, there have been ideas about how the campus and community could partner with the subsea cable, Project Echo. And become a polytechnic, diversify our campus, and create more housing and food options for students. And those have been just some of the dozens of questions and ideas. Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the President of Cal Poly Humboldt.