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Elevation of the Trades: Becoming CMU Tech

Leonardo da Vinci is known for contributions to art and scientific discovery. His legacy reveals an impact on humanity that transcends time and culture. Fewer people may know that da Vinci’s contributions were founded on practical skills, hands-on experience and field exploration. His apprenticeship in a workshop laid the groundwork for practical application of his tinkering and craftsmanship. Da Vinci practiced “interdisciplinary thinking” before the term was known. In a way, Da Vinci elevated the trades of his day by using everyday skills to create works that contributed to human well-being and quality of life.  

In Fall 2023, Colorado Mesa University renamed Western Colorado Community College as CMU Tech. CMU Tech offers more than 30 career and technical education programs that directly strengthen western Colorado’s workforce and provide a wealth of opportunities
for students.

The unique mission of CMU includes CMU Tech certificate and associate degrees with practical hands-on training, stackable credentials that increase earning power and traditional four-year degrees, along with advanced academic opportunities like master’s and doctoral degrees. While many institutions segment these offerings, CMU is elevating the trades and responding to the practical needs of businesses and the community.

Frank Cardoza is a CMU Tech Land and Safety technician that has been on the front lines of the relationship between the trades and the communities they serve, and applauded efforts by CMU to reconnect people with the services they rely on for modern life.

“There has been a cultural disconnect between higher education and the needs of trade-related businesses and industry,” said Cardoza. “CMU Tech is the glue that will help fuse these disconnected pieces back together.”

The establishment of CMU Tech also reflects CMU’s understanding that traditional academic and emerging technical disciplines are different but that both have an equally important role to play in society.

“While there are workforce reasons to expand trade offerings at CMU, the need to reintroduce our communities to the importance of the trades is a part of why we launched Becoming CMU Tech,” said CMU President John Marshall. “There is nobility and meaning and art found in the practice of the trades. We believe when a welding certificate and a four-year degree in political science are seen as being equally valuable, then we know we are advancing our mission.”

Changing Perceptions and Elevating Trades 

In a post-pandemic world, the essential nature of trades has become more apparent. The specialization and efficiency of trades result in reliable infrastructure. However, natural disasters and rapid changes have shown that skills necessary to sustain life are only as strong as the people trained to maintain them. The evolution of CMU Tech communicates the importance of valuing trades — marking what CMU calls the journey of Becoming CMU Tech. 

“Renaming the university’s career and technical program offerings is one thing,” said CMU Vice President for Technical Education and Workforce Development Brigitte Sündermann. “Communicating our offerings to future students and businesses, and how these sustain a strong community, is part of our mission too.” 

CMU Tech challenges the narrative around trades, historically viewed as less prestigious than four-year degree professions. The institution’s focus on modern technology, industry standards and critical thinking skills are key. 

Lighting Up Lives: Electric Lineworker Program 

Holy Cross Electric Association, Inc., organized in 1939, provides customers with affordable and reliable power throughout the Roaring Fork and Eagle River Valley in Colorado. The cooperative serves customers in some of the most remote and challenging locations in the nation, including areas at elevations exceeding 10,000 feet — making electricity delivery and reliability challenging.

Holy Cross customers know that even during the most extreme mountain winter weather they can rely on the array of electric lineworkers who are on standby to keep the lights on. The power provider dispatches riders to even the most remote locations where lineworkers, sometimes riding snowmobiles in the moonlight, restore power when it is needed most. 

“For our team, late nights and difficult assignments aren’t unusual,” said Holy Cross Glenwood Line Manager James Ray. “Our lineworkers see winter maintenance and emergency calls as part of their daily duty to keep our customers safe, warm and happy.” 

Beyond local reliability, CMU Tech’s electric lineworker certificate and associate of applied science degree contribute to the nation’s electric grid. When seen in its totality, the grid is an elegant and artistic feat of human ingenuity.

CMU Tech electric lineworker student Rogan Pike focuses on what he does from the perspective of how the profession allows him to create a legacy.

“Line working and the jobs we do leave a fingerprint in the lives of others. People see what we do, and so I want to make sure what I do each day is seen by the community as a job well done.”

Pike receives financial support from Holy Cross to earn his lineworker certificate with the hope that he can go on to launch his career with the cooperative. 

The Art and Science of Joining Metals: Welding Technology Program 

Several All-Metals Welding employees have received training through CMU Tech’s programming, and the company has made it a point to hire the programs’ graduates. Beyond technical proficiency, welders understand their craft as an art form too. Many have signature welds and styles, contributing to public art in the community. 

Harlan Mosher, an All-Metals Welding employee and instructor at what was then Mesa State College, made his mark in the 1980s and 90s. Mosher worked in the world of sculpture, fusing and molding art works that are now dotted throughout Grand Junction. One of his most impactful pieces, “The Gatekeeper,” has a permanent place on the 24 Road roundabout outside of Canyon View Park.

Shortly after the building of the CMU University Center (UC), All Metals created the existing modern shade structures for the outdoor seating area south of the UC. The structures are strong and resilient in their design and enhance the campus’s aesthetic demonstrating that welding is both practical and artistic. 

“CMU’s effort to elevate trades like welding helps the public understand that our craft is more than just a skill set,”said All Metals General Manager, Amos Biocic. “The nation was built on the shoulders of welders and tradespeople, and our contributions are immeasurable and growing.” 

Building Community: Construction Technology Program

Graduates of Keara LaBonde’s construction technology classes are not only helping to build new healthcare facilities and community centers across the Grand Valley, they’re harnessing a valuable skill they learned along the way: building connections. As an instructor of construction technology, networking and field-based training are both important priorities. She’s intentional about creating professional development opportunities for students through collaborations and trips to field sites to meet superintendents.

“In construction, there are no limits,” said Labonde. “There are no limits on what you can do, where you live, what kind of job you can get.”

Keeping Comfort in Every Climate: HVAC Program

For many, parking in a warm garage and walking into a comfortable home is an expectation of modern life. Those ensuring America’s homes are cool in summer and warm in winter graduate from CMU Tech’s Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Program. 

Avalanche Heating, Cooling and Plumbing has operated in the Grand Valley for more than 18 years, installing thousands of heating and cooling systems. 

“Each system is unique and tailored for the building,” said Owner of Avalanche and supporter of CMU Tech’s certificate training program, Jim Ostrander. “People appreciate a home’s exterior beauty, but its internal mechanics are just as complex and elegant. Our technicians ensure one of the most taken-for-granted aspects of modern living: climate control.” 

From professional services to industrial sectors, the world increasingly relies on the art of HVAC technicians and their craft of keeping people comfortable and productive. 

Crafting Precision: Manufacturing/Machining Technology 

CMU Tech’s Manufacturing/Machining Technology Program highlights the precision of modern manufacturing. The program focuses on advanced machining techniques, material understanding and design — preparing students for a rapidly evolving sector. CMU Tech’s Sturm-ANB Bank Mobile Learning Lab is a facility for teaching mechatronics — a skill with far-reaching impact, including the maintenance of the modern vending machines found across campus.

Harrison Dico-Jekot is a current student and appreciates the work professionals like architects and engineers who plan and prepare projects do. He also appreciates that the certificate side of his education is a valuable addition to his skill set and credentials as he pursues a mechanical engineering degree and two technical certificates in manufacturing technology and mechanics.

“I can appreciate planning and preparing, but I am most excited about ‘doing.’ I am sketching the big picture, building in layers and putting my work on display while also developing the practical skills needed to bring the project to life,” he said.

The Economic and Social Impact 

By revaluing trades, CMU Tech contributes to a diverse workforce, which is critical for economic growth and innovation. Graduates are not just job-ready — they are equipped to be industry leaders. This shift empowers individuals and strengthens communities. 

As technical skills become increasingly in demand, the importance of institutions like CMU Tech grows —shaping skilled professionals and reshape societal views on education and success. A certificate from CMU Tech is the result of a comprehensive, respected and invaluable education. 


Written by David Ludlam