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History of Cuyamaca College

In 2007, “The Cuyamaca Way” became Cuyamaca College’s official motto, a tribute to the institution’s prevailing sense of community. Thirteen key words that the campus community decided best describe that “Cuyamaca Way” were inscribed in curving concrete bands stretching across the newly paved quad. The words, “beautiful, collaborative, dedicated, innovative, integrity, teamwork, vision, welcoming, student-centered, community, excellence, passionate, and friendly,” became etched in stone.

The declaration of Cuyamaca’s distinct attributes hearkens back to a time some 35 years prior, when District trustees first selected the name “Cuyamaca College” in envisioning an institution that exemplifies the “community” in the words “community college.”

The history of the campus

The Cuyamaca College campus is located in the East San Diego County community of Rancho San Diego, nestled in a suburb just outside the city of El Cajon on a verdant 165 acre site that was at one time a part of the Old Monte Vista Ranch. Along with its sister campus, Grossmont College, it is part of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.

The name for the college reflects the region's history and heritage. A very old word linked to the land’s Native American past, “Cuyamaca” has been interpreted in various ways, including "above rain," "beyond rain" and "place where the rain comes from heavens."

The campus site was acquired by the Board of Trustees in September 1972 and the college officially opened in fall 1978, with 1,947 students and nine associate-degree programs. Its first president was Dr. Wallace F. Cohen. Today, Cuyamaca provides 140 degrees and certificates, including those in innovative green-energy programs, to its 9,000 students. In addition, another 4,000 are enrolled in the District’s non-credit Continuing Education and Workforce Training program based at Cuyamaca College.

Key events

Thirty-eight students made up Cuyamaca College’s first graduating class in May 1979. The early ‘80s saw the construction of facilities housing two highly regarded programs –  Automotive Technology and Ornamental Horticulture – and the naming of Dr. Samuel Ciccati as the college’s second president.

The following years marked the expansion in earnest of Rancho San Diego and by fall 1988, Cuyamaca’s enrollment had reached 3,600 students, The decade of the ‘80s came to a close with the opening of the Learning Resource Center, a 30,000-square-foot, glass-covered building with a distinctive architecture that has established it as an often-photographed campus icon.

The ‘90s were highlighted by the opening of the privately-funded Heritage of the Americas Museum, as well as the dedication of a new 20.3-acre physical education facility with a fitness center, gym, tennis and volleyball courts, soccer and ball fields, and an Olympic track.   Dr. Sherrill Amador began her tenure as college president in 1994 and a year later, Rancho San Diego Parkway opened as the college’s new main entrance, providing better access to the campus. The decade of the ‘90s ended with the opening of the Water Conservation Garden – a must-visit for all home gardening and landscaping enthusiasts – operated through a Joint Powers Agreement between the college and area water-district agencies.

With the opening of a one-stop Student Services Center, the 21st century got off to a busy start for the college, which also celebrated the unveiling of the Child Development Center. The whimsical facility serves as both a childcare facility for the campus and community, and a learning lab for students in Cuyamaca’s Child Development Studies program.

Dr. Geraldine M. Perri took over the reins as college president in 2002, the same year that East County residents approved Prop. R, a $207 million construction bond measure to finance upgrades and new building construction at the District’s two colleges.

During a period of rapid enrollment growth, Prop. R transformed the campus into a high-tech learning magnet, bringing older facilities like the automotive technology center into the digital age and adding several state-of-the-art buildings: the Science and Technology Center (now the Science and Mathematics Building), the Student Center, the Business and Technology buildings, and the jewel of the campus, a $45 million Communication Arts Center. There, a well-appointed performing arts theater built to professional acoustical standards has become a major community asset as a high-demand site for community performances, assemblies, business forums and even, worship services.

Prop. R’s major construction at Cuyamaca College drew to a close in 2011 with the expansion of the LRC. Other campus highlights during those years included music instructor Pat Setzer’s  selection as one of four community college instructors statewide to win the 2010 Hayward Award for Excellence in Education, and in 2011, the appointment of Dr. Mark J. Zacovic to the post of college president.

In November 2012, East County voters once again showed their support for the college district with the passage of Prop. V, a $398 million bond measure that paves the way for Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges to address continuing facility, infrastructure and technology needs.

Also in 2012, Cuyamaca was selected as one of three community colleges in the state to be given the inaugural Energy and Sustainability Award from the California Community College Board of Governors. The college was recognized for its sustainable landscaping initiatives, including a conference that has attracted hundreds of industry professionals annually since 2008.

As a recognized leader in green-career training, the college’s Continuing Education and Workforce Training Division annually manages an average $2-3 million in workforce development grant funds. In 2009, it received a $1 million grant to train workers for jobs in the green building industry.

Cuyamaca College continues its development as a dynamic learning mecca, a unique campus with a strong allegiance to sustainability reflective of its natural beauty. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, the college remains unwavering in its mission to meet the comprehensive educational and workforce training needs of residents in East County and beyond.

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