The Making of a Moonshot: West Hills Grants Office Reaches New Heights

Brian Boomer compares the West Hills Grants Office to astronaut Michael Collins. As third man on the Apollo 11 mission, Collins stayed in the command module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their places in history as the first people to walk on the moon.

“Michael Collins wasn’t on magazine covers or the nightly news,” says Boomer, the newly hired director of the Grants Office. “But they couldn’t do it without him. His part of the mission was vital.”

Similarly, the Grants Office is part of the behind-the-scenes machinery that keeps West Hills running steady, finding funds that help students reach for the stars. Each year, the office brings in about $10 million — money that funds everything from classroom technology to after-school programs.
But staying steady doesn’t interest Boomer. His sights are set on the horizon.
“My goals are to diversify the kind of grants we bring in,” he said. “My No. 1 goal is to go after grants that make students’ lives better. I want to be strategic, and I want to be more adventurous. For example, I want to focus on undergraduate research because it’s something that’s been shown to improve student  outcomes and it’s something few  community colleges are doing.”
If recent successes are any indication, Boomer’s approach is working.

For example, a recently acquired grant of approximately $500,000, awarded at $166,666 per year for three years, will go toward developing a Child Development Apprenticeship Program. The program will allow students to receive training by allowing them to work at childcare centers while earning a degree. The funding defrays the often-prohibitive costs associated with hiring new workers at child-focused facilities. In short: student outcomes are improved through real-world experience and businesses close skilled labor gaps. It’s a win-win situation.

There is also a new Ag Tech Apprenticeship Pathway grant from the CA Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office awarded at $333,000 for four (4) years. The funding guarantees the continuation and expansion of the Wonderful Ag Career Prep program, which will add an additional cohort of 30 Ag Prep apprentices at Avenal High School and Mendota High School annually, beginning Fall 2019. The grant provides funds to give agriculturally inclined 9-12 graders the opportunity to begin a college degree pathway during high school. After high school graduation, students transition to West Hills College Coalinga to complete the remaining course work for an Associate’s degree as well as participate in a two-year paid apprenticeship with The Wonderful Company. The combination of the college degree and paid apprenticeship experience is designed to equip students for successful careers as Ag Technicians.
“Before I worked for West Hills, I didn’t know there was a Grants Office applying for funding for things like after school programs.” said Diana Enriquez, newly hired Grant Development Specialist at West Hills. “The reality is that the Grants Office plans months in advanced to apply for grants that will bring new programs. If we don’t, those programs are gone."

Enriquez says working in the Grants Office has given her a new perspective on the relationship between the West Hills and the surrounding communities.

“My favorite part about working for the Grants Department is researching new ways to bring in money, and then watching programs evolve in the communities we serve," she said.
It is natural for workers in the Grants Office to take a mile-high view of success. Their work makes it possible for faculty to teach in more effective ways and for students to
get the help and guidance they need.
... or, as Boomer puts it: “We help them get to the moon.”