Janell Oberlander can still remember taking her first class at Gillette College as a senior in high school. Back then, her psychology course was held on Thursday nights in the former college building housed in the old hospital off of Stocktrail Avenue. That decades later she would return to her hometown to become vice president of the college couldn’t make her prouder.

Over the years, she enjoyed seeing the college develop and grow during her visits home, beginning with the establishment of a new campus under the expansion of Northern Wyoming Community College in the late ‘70s, followed by the addition of a nursing program in 1983, the Career Development Center in the early ‘90s, and Old Main in 2003. Many developments soon followed that decade, including the grand opening of the Tech Center, Tanner Village student housing, a new Activities Center and Nursing Simulation Center, the Pronghorn Center and the rodeo/ag complex, Area 59 makerspace, and most recently, the new soccer field, that Oberlander calls state-of-the-art and probably the biggest and nicest field in the state that will no doubt garner action for local and regional teams beyond the college.

“The community leaders really had a vision,” she said. “They saw the value of having a thriving community college in Gillette and worked hard to develop community partnerships to grow both the college and its programs.”

She ticks off a long list of names of former and current faculty, advisory board members, city council members, former college presidents, government officials and individuals and families who were instrumental in the formation and success of Gillette College. Names like Bob Palmer, Rusty Bell, Nick and Norine Kasperik, Leta Tanner, Tracy and Jeff Wasserburger, the Carter-King family, Will LaDuke, and a long list of others that she recalled as she flipped through a stack of old photos.

Really, it was many people and community groups and organizations working together to form productive relationships and to leverage partnerships, Oberlander noted.

“It was vision,” she said. “People wanted to provide good services and facilities for our community.”

Today, the college educates around 8,000 part- and full-time students every year from Campbell County and elsewhere with an estimated overall impact of over $64 million for the county since 2013. Many of these students are local and remain in the community after graduation. Currently, the college offers two-year degree programs as well as certifications in 26 areas of study, including business, education, nursing, arts and sciences, among others. Gillette College is also in the process of establishing an applied baccalaureate in a subject still to be decided as it moves through the accreditation process. Oberlander hopes to see this established by fall of 2020.

In September, the College celebrates its 50-year anniversary. The public is invited to take part in a host of activities over the Sept 5-7 weekend, including a Foamy 5-K Walk/Run, soccer field dedication and games, an Eight Second Ride concert, and dinner and reception on Saturday, Sept. 7 with Gov. Mark Gordon as the keynote speaker.

On behalf of the faculty and staff, Oberlander invites the community to take part in recognizing and celebrating the many leaders and visionaries who helped create Gillette College, and the goal of continuing to provide quality and affordable education and training to local students and residents.

They’ve come a long way, Oberlander pointed out, and success like this deserves to be celebrated.

By: Jen C. Kocher

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