Sierra College celebrates 20 years in Nevada County (Interactive Timeline) |

Sierra College celebrates 20 years in Nevada County (Interactive Timeline)

Jason Giuliani, a chemistry professor at Sierra College, shows Athena Giuliani, left, Leander Giuliani and Shelby Smith how to make slime at Friday's open house at the college's Nevada County campus. The campus hosted the community event to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Emily Lavin/ |

When Jerry Angove became president of Sierra College in 1975, he had a vision for a new Nevada County branch of the community college.

Sierra College was already providing Nevada County residents some access to its classes. In the 1960s, the college provided bus service from the area to its newly opened Rocklin campus. When budget cuts ended that service in the 1970s, the college began to offer some of its classes at Nevada Union High School and other facilities in the area, and even televised classes locally.

But there was a need to offer a more complete community college education to the community, said Angove, who served as president of Sierra College until 1993.

Since opening in 1996, the campus’s facilities have continued to evolve. A library opened in 1997. In 2001, the school launched the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and opened its Child Development Center; its Robotic Observatory opened in 2005.

“My goal when I came here in 1975 was that no one should ever have to go more than 30 miles for classes,” Angove said.

More than two decades — and $23 million in state funding — later, Sierra College’s Nevada County campus opened its doors in 1996.

On Friday, the campus celebrated its 20th anniversary with an open house and marketplace that featured local craft and food vendors, classroom demonstrations, an art show and more.

The milestone anniversary “is a wonderful sense of accomplishment,” said Stephanie Ortiz, the executive dean of the campus.

It took years of designing, planning and navigating bureaucracy to get the 105-acre campus up and running, Angove said. After securing state funding for the project, a community committee considered several sites for the new campus before purchasing what was known as Litton Hill. Part of the location’s appeal, Angove said, was that it was equally accessible to both Grass Valley and Nevada City residents.

Enthusiasm for the campus began to grow; a ground-breaking ceremony was held on the Litton Hill site in 1994. Nancy Palmer remembers that day. She was attending a meeting in another part of town. When she heard the ceremony was happening, she immediately said, “I gotta go.”

She drove over to the Litton Hill site. There was no paved road that provided access to the top of the hill, so she parked on the street and ran up the incline, destroying her high heels in the process.

“I said, I’m going to be a part of this,” Palmer remembered. In 1994, she ran for and won a seat on the Sierra College Board of Trustees, a position she has held for 22 years.

Since opening in 1996, the campus’s facilities have continued to evolve. A library opened in 1997. In 2001, the school launched the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and opened its Child Development Center; its Robotic Observatory opened in 2005.

In 2006, Ghidotti Early College High School opened on the Nevada County campus; Ghidotti students attend classes at Sierra College at no cost, enabling them to graduate with a high school diploma as well as an associate’s degree or credits toward college.

The campus’s most significant face-lift to date followed the 2004 passage of the voter-approved Measure G. The bond measure gave the school more than $44 million to improve its facilities. With the money, the campus added a multipurpose center, two additional buildings each for art and physical education, and additional computer labs and classrooms. The campus also renovated about 70 percent of its existing buildings, among other projects.

“It was massive,” Ortiz said of the work.

Today, the school serves about 1,800 students; the college has not been immune from the declining enrollment felt by most of the elementary and high schools in the county, Ortiz said.

At its core, she said, the mission of the campus hasn’t changed much since it opened — it still strives to provide general education, transfer courses and career technology classes to the community, both for college credit and for enrichment.

But over the last several years, the college has tried to hone in on the mission even further, Ortiz said. She’s passionate about furthering the college’s career tech options, noting the campus recently began offering agriculture classes again after a several-year hiatus.

The campus has also worked to develop the sense of community that can often be lacking at smaller community colleges. In recent years, the campus has established a student government and campus life committee, and extended the hours of its student center cafe, all of which help connect students to the school, Ortiz said.

The campus will have to remain “nimble on its feet” to meet the needs of its students as well as the constraints of its budget, Ortiz said. One of the main focuses of the school is continuing to improve its student support services, ensuring that each student creates an education plan, receives academic support and picks up other crucial skills, including financial literacy.

Many of those efforts will be targeted toward low-income students or students who are first in family to attend college, Ortiz said.

The school will also continue to create pathways to help students complete their general education requirements in two years, and work to increase its non-credit offerings aimed at community education, she said.

“We’re looking for ways to better serve students in the way they want to be served,” Ortiz said.

More than three decades after he assumed the president post at Sierra College and envisioned a Nevada County campus, Angove said he’s proud of the school, and that watching the campus grow has been rewarding.

“To see it happen and to have been a small part of it makes me feel very proud,” Angove said.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230.

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