The iconic arched second-floor walkway of Ironwood Hall beckons students at the Chandler-Gilbert Community College Pecos Campus. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

A lot has changed in the 30 years since Chandler-Gilbert Community College was first accredited.

Back then, there was little else besides farms around the campus, which comprised only a couple of buildings.

What began as two buildings at Gilbert and Pecos roads has since grown to 667,240 square feet of state-of-the-art educational spaces across 188 acres, including the Pecos and Williams campuses, Sun Lakes Center, and the Communiversity at Queen Creek.

One thing that hasn’t changed as the school celebrates its anniversary is a commitment to service.

Its first two presidents, Arnett Scott Ward and Maria Hesse, “wanted to be massively involved in our community,” said Russell Luce, the school’s athletic director. “They wanted to be a community college, not just in name, but they wanted to be involved.”

Ward and Hesse made service a key component of attending CGCC, Luce said.

“The service learning department here is one of the best in the country,” he said. “It is - and it has been for a long, long time.”

Chandler-Gilbert Community College began in 1985 as an extension of Mesa Community College. When it first opened it was one pink building across from a dairy farm.

The school earned its accreditation during the 1992-93 school year, so it is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Today, it is the second largest school in the Maricopa County Community College District with about 14,000 students at four locations.

Service is a big part of the CGCC experience.

Mike Greene is the current head of student life at CGCC. His previous job was running a Boys and Girls Club program, and that is how he said he learned about the school’s commitment to service.

“I really didn’t understand it at the time, when I was at the Boys and Girls Club,” Greene said. “The reality is, it’s not about me and my kids. It was about those kids in those classrooms who are getting connected, and learning about themselves, and learning about service and how important that is.”

Luce offered an example. In English class, most students are asked to write a paper so the professor can evaluate their writing skills. At CGCC, they are asked to volunteer somewhere, put in 15 hours of community service and then write about the experience.

“I finally came back into a classroom after they did service at the club, came back into classroom and listened to the stories they had written,” Greene said. “And I was like, ‘wow, that’s powerful stuff.’ They were talking about how it influenced them as individuals.”

KT Campbell now works in the student life department, but was among the first group of students to attend CGCC after it earned its accreditation.

“I was given the choice to move out on the street, or you’re going to school,” Campbell said. She tried Mesa Community College at first, but said it was too big for her liking.

Her mom told her about this new college that was opening up.

“I started driving out here, … and I pulled up to just two small buildings.”

She said the one service event that stood out to her was Generations Prom. The students at the school would invite seniors living in the community to a prom-like event.

One year, the number of students signing up was not what it should have been. So, Luce told his baseball team at the time to sign up. Once they did, and had a good time, Luce said it became a very popular event.

“We’d have our big band play,” Luce said. “We would bring young people and seniors together and we’d have a date. We’d have snacks and refreshments and food from their generation.”

However, it did not survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, service remains a huge part of being a CGCC student.

“When I got here, I got to see more of what was going on with those students,” Greene said.

“And what they learned, what they got out of it, was that connection to the college. When they come back they talk about that connection, that experience and whatever they learned. It’s really pretty cool.”

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