Making a change

Sena Schmidt / Roundup

Pierce College hasn’t always been the thriving, successful and economically established school that it is today. Only six years ago, Pierce’s campus had some issues. That is, until the campus’ current Vice President of College Development, Dr. Tom Oliver came to its rescue in 2000 and helped turned the school’s future around.

Recently honored with the Justice Armand Arabian award by the Encino Chamber of Commerce, Oliver, also the Interim President of Pierce from 2004 to 2006, helped raise the school’s decreasing student enrollment numbers and formulated an educational master plan to assist in the million dollar deficit into which Pierce had fallen.

Now, 6,000 new students and $1 million in college spending money later and Pierce is again living up to its profitable and popular image.

Oliver’s plan for reinvention originated a little over a year ago when he decided to make good use of the 250 open acres of the campus’ land and create Pierce’s first Harvest Festival in fall of 2005. This project alone was a success and generated $125,000 for the school in only a two month period.

This year’s Harvest Festival profits will go toward hiring new custodians and gardeners.

Along with the achievement of the Harvest Festival, Oliver also delved into the college’s agricultural roots and helped create the “Tomato Shack,” which was a produce stand off of Victory Boulevard where the campus made $50,000 from July 15 to Sept. 15 on the sales of fruits and vegetables grown on Pierce’s very own farmland.

“It was sad land,” Oliver said about the earlier conditions of the college’s soil. “It had weeds in it. Now we have a pro farmer,” he said with a laugh. “Farmer John.”

Now, the college grows its own pumpkins, corn and tomatoes and is currently in the process of growing a vineyard under Oliver’s supervision.

“Everything has a budget that has to be approved by me,” said Oliver.

Dennis Washburn, Director for the Foundation for Pierce, also helped donate money to the college.

All of these projects, including complete renovation and rebuilding of the business center, agricultural education center, copy center, food services, parking services, sheriff’s department, student store, farm market and equestrian center which fall under the College Enterprise Operation which Oliver heads.

Many of the bungalows, including our own Roundup newsroom will eventually be demolished as well and those classrooms will be moved into one of the two new 10,000 square foot buildings that will soon be built, also a part of the Enterprise Operation.

But Oliver is certainly not all about the money since Pierce’s extra farmland is worth nearly $2 million an acre and he is instead utilizing the land for educational purposes.

“Money is not what we’re about,” said Oliver.

“This land is dedicated to no non-college building,” he continued. “It’ll be pristine one of these days. It just takes time.”

Oliver’s plans also include expansion of the Equestrian Center and Canon de Lana, a beautiful and secluded nature reserve on campus.

Another recent development project currently underway is the Agricultural Education Center’s “Pizza Farm,”

an educational experience for children which is a crop circle with different “slices” each growing a different ingredient used to make a pizza.

“It took six years for the college to get to where it is,” Oliver stated.

“But it wasn’t just me,” Oliver continued. “It was a real team effort with the faculty, the staff and the administration.”

Oliver is also a family man. He has a wife, Mary, of 38 years and two sons Brian and Jason.

“They got their start at Pierce College,” Oliver said proudly.

“Just like me.”