COCC to Recruit, Fund Underserved Students with Innovative $750K Tech-Sector Grant

Central Oregon Community College (COCC) recently received a transformative $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation that will be used to recruit underserved students and train them for careers in the expanding tech sector.

The funds will enable the college to recruit low-income, academically gifted students interested in degrees in the fields of computer and geographical information systems, provide 45 scholarships of $10,000 each, and develop new career-connected training within COCC’s programs to best align with industry needs.

Funding will be allocated over the next six years, with $450,000 reserved specifically for scholarships open to low-income students seeking degrees in computer information systems (CIS) and geographic information systems (GIS). Most students are expected to concurrently receive federal Pell grant aid which will combine with the scholarships to fully cover all education, housing and living costs.

The design of the COCC project includes a modified educational approach. In addition to the scholarships, students will receive enhanced advising from COCC faculty and enter programs in close-knit cohorts. Seminars designed by instructors and local employers will improve job skills and help students get hired upon graduation.

“This project will integrate career development directly into our curriculum,” explained Pat Kennelly, director of GIS at the college. “Technical ‘hard’ skills will be furthered through increased faculty- and peer-mentoring, while ‘soft’ career skills will be developed through employment-readiness workshops with local employers and career counselors.” Soft skills, such as organizational and collaborative skills, are an oft-cited barrier to employment in the IT industry, Kennelly noted.

While the project improves STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — access for students and allows faculty to learn new techniques for improving STEM education, it will also advance new strategies and approaches to preparing low-income, underrepresented students for workforce readiness.

Nationally and locally, CIS and GIS educations are connecting with an in-demand information systems industry. According to recent figures from the State of Oregon Employment Department, Central Oregon, between 2019 and 2029, will see database administrator jobs grow by 27.3% and network administrator jobs grow by 23.9%, while web developer jobs will rise by 20.5%. All other computer-oriented occupations, including jobs in the GIS sector, are expected to increase by 11.2% in the same time period, according to the career forecasting.

For more information, contact Pat Kennelly, GIS program director, at 541-383-7703 or

COCC Receives NSF Grant