Modesto JC’s $18 million high-tech center opens on East Campus

Greg Housmann, left, an administration of justice instructor at MJC, leads a tour of the new Center for Advanced Technologies at Modesto Junior College on Friday.
Greg Housmann, left, an administration of justice instructor at MJC, leads a tour of the new Center for Advanced Technologies at Modesto Junior College on Friday.

After a decade of planning and two years of construction, Modesto Junior College opened its $18 million Center for Advanced Technologies, nicknamed CAT, on East Campus on Friday, just in time for the first day of fall semester Monday.

The plural in its name was chosen with unlimited possibilities in mind, said MJC President Jill Stearns at Friday’s ribbon-cutting. “It is the result of investment in current and future technologies,” she said, calling its features “intersections of ingenuity and engineering.”

The Measure E-funded makeover of the dowdy old science building retained the U-shaped footprint, but inside beats a fresh new heart.

From its dozens of ceiling-mounted Wi-Fi access points to its special flooring to keep static electricity at bay, the sunlit building offers opportunities MJC never had before, Dean Jennifer Hamilton said.

Coming after years spent huddled in small portable classrooms in a campus parking lot, moving into the new center “is like opening Aladdin’s cave,” she said. “There are so many possibilities.”

Classes in anthropology, administration of justice, geography, computer graphics and computer science will share the building’s 54,665 square feet, a mix Hamilton called “curious cohabitants.” But there is a synergy, she said, with computer graphics faculty helping create copies of anthropological artifacts.

Measure E has a tremendous impact on our college, on our programming and the opportunities for students.

Jill Stearns, MJC president

“It’s more effective space,” said computer graphics professor Joel Hagen, showing off 3-D printed skulls made with copper-infused plastic. “This building is actually a place students will enjoy being in,” he said.

Classrooms have a mix of collapsible tables for easy storage or individual desks, with rows spread enough for long legs. Flexible chairs lean back. Lower desks welcome wheelchairs, and two chairs per room were sturdier models for larger students.

The first four rows of one lecture hall had charging stations, making traditionally avoided seats at the front of the class suddenly the place to be.

Even hallways were outfitted with electrical connections in mind. Seating and standing ledges offer easy connections to plugs (for laptops) and USB ports (for cellphones). Anyone still using wired Internet connections will find click-in ports right next to the outlets.

Whiz-bang features take a back seat, however, to what faculty members saw as the building’s unfolding potential and its inspiration for the future. Make no mistake, though, there are plenty of whiz-bang features.

“This is a really interesting meeting point and springboard for students,” said Dale Phillips, a computer science instructor. Phillips runs the Jeremy Michael Kelley Linux Lab, named in memory of an MJC alum who worked in Linux systems. The lab, partially funded by Kelley’s parents, offers students hands-on training in foundational coding used in running the Internet, one of today’s hottest job markets, Phillips said.

MJC is working with Modesto City Schools and community members to bring youngsters to the college for coding classes, he said.

We have spaces open for innovation.

dean of Business, Behavioral and Social Sciences at Modesto Junior College

On the first floor, the aptly named Magic Lab has 60 stations offering the full Adobe Creative Cloud to students enrolled in computer courses, said lab tutor Adam Bava. The Windows-based machines have 32 gigabytes of RAM and 2-terabyte, partitioned hard drives. In other words, ample computing power and storage to run cutting-edge graphics and video applications.

In another section of the building, the Project Room offers a flexible classroom with stackable, storable furniture and a brightly painted wall that doubles as a green screen for filming foreground action.

A use-of-force training and firearms lab gives a simulation tool to administration-of-justice classes. Hamilton tried out a scenario of walking into a dark office, viewed on a screen. When an actor on screen jumped out at her holding something that gleamed metal, she fired, a direct laser hit to the leg.

The stress-focused experiences are followed by a discussion of practical options and legal consequences. She would have likely not been legally liable, she learned, even though the man had only a stapler in his hand.

The Destructive Network Lab contains its own servers, separated from the college system. It allows students to create, crash and restore networks, learning security skills as well as network administration, said computer science professor John Zamora.

$12.2 million Amount spent on MJC’s Center for Advanced Technologies construction, with furniture and computer equipment making a total cost of $17.8 million

The building also includes practical touches, like tables instead of desks for geography classes. “We still use atlases. We still use hard paper maps. It’s hard on those little desks to lay those out,” said professor Cece Hudelson.

Beside large digital screens at the front of classrooms, there are plain whiteboards – “I can always get batteries for those,” Zamora quipped.

Former science counters and storage units were reused in a nod to economy. The old building’s outside stairways and restrooms got a face-lift. The old external hallways were enclosed to make offices. The courtyard got a palm-tree-landscaped planter, welcoming visitors from the west.

Surveying the welcoming space, Zamora said the building could also be used for gatherings. “One of the dreams I had was for an opportunity for conferencing,” he said.

His department never had a recognizable space, he said. “We needed a face,” he said. “This gives us that face.”