ELKO, Nevada — If quality and longevity are the hallmarks of a great partnership, then the one between Great Basin College and Barrick certainly makes the grade. The two parties, both critical pillars in the social and economic fabric of northern Nevada, have worked together since the early 1990s.
Barrick has supported technical scholarships and provided in-kind donations and numerous charitable contributions to the Elko-based college, while Great Basin continues to grow and produce skilled graduates, many of whom have gone on to work at Barrick.
In recent times, the partnership has been especially beneficial as public funding for education in Nevada dried up in the face of a long and deep recession. Between 2009 and 2013, Nevada cut education spending by $700 million, straining the state’s higher education system and driving up tuition fees.
"The focus on education has been at the heart of our corporate social responsibility efforts here in the state for some time now"
According to the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, a Las Vegas-based think tank, tuition and fees for Nevada college students surged 44 percent between 2008 and 2014 to $6,385 a year, after adjusting for inflation. The increase means fewer young people can afford post-secondary education. This, in turn, could lead to significant negative long-term impacts on Nevada’s economy, as most well-paying, skilled jobs require a college education.
While Great Basin is not immune to the broader state trends, the college’s partnership with Barrick helped it weather the storm. "When Barrick spends $400,000 to help furnish the college, it frees up funds to spend in other areas," says John Rice, Executive Director of the Great Basin College Foundation, an organization that raises private funds to support the college’s activities and programs. It eases the burden."
Over the years, Barrick has contributed funds towards numerous Great Basin programs and facilities. Since 2005, the company has donated more than $6.1 million to the college. That includes a $1.2 million pledge in 2012 to help fund career and technical education programs, student housing and an expansion of training programs at Great Basin’s Winnemucca campus.
Last year, Barrick donated another $1.2 million to support the college’s Maintenance Training Cooperative program and its Virtual Humanities Center, among other things. The Humanities Center will provide students throughout Great Basin’s huge catchment area with access to humanities programs and archives via an online portal, and will also house the Great Basin Indian Archive, which features a repository of oral histories of the Western Shoshone people. The latest Barrick donation facilitated an additional $500,000 grant towards the Humanities Center from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
"It seems that whenever we need financial help, Barrick has been there for us," says Mark Curtis, President of Great Basin College. "Of course, it has to make sense; it can’t be a frivolous project, but any time we’ve had a worthwhile project Barrick has helped."
The relationship between Barrick and Great Basin has been symbiotic — as the company grew, so did the college. The college has gone from 700 students in 1996 to 2,000 in 2014, nearly tripling in size. The focus of the college’s program offerings has also expanded.
"Our growth in program offerings has not only been in the career and technical areas, but also our four-year bachelor programs such as education and health care," Rice says. "This is because there has been an influx of people in the community and their children need to be taught or cared for when they get sick."
Mark Lafoon, Director on the Board of Trustees at Great Basin College, adds, "For each miner in the community, you have four support people who come along for the ride."
With Barrick’s support, Great Basin has been able to purchase equipment to conduct online video classes, which allows students who cannot come to the school to pursue their degree nevertheless. Great Basin serves students from Winnemucca to Pahrump, just north of Las Vegas.
"This is particularly big for us because northern Nevada is so large and there are less than two people per square mile, so a lot of what we do is virtual," Curtis says.
Great Basin serves all of Nevada except for the Reno-Carson City area and Clark County, Rice says, noting that the college’s service area includes Area 51, the famed U.S. military installation long rumored to be a haven for UFOs.
"Please don’t ask me to divulge any information about it," Rice quips. "It’s all classified."
Michael Brown, Barrick’s Executive Director in the U.S., says the company takes great pride in its relationship with Great Basin and other schools throughout the state. "The focus on education has been at the heart of our corporate social responsibility efforts here in the state for some time now," he says. "I’m very pleased that Barrick can leverage its resources to help the Nevada higher education system."
The Maintenance Training Cooperative program at Great Basin College provides $5,000 scholarships to qualifying students and assists them with the cost of books, supplies and tuition for technical programs such as diesel, electrical, instrumentation, industrial plant maintenance technology and welding. Students also obtain on-the-job training, spending part of their time working at a mine in their area of specialization.
The scholarships have long been a boon to the college’s students and the companies that support the program. Barrick has funded approximately 40 of these scholarships annually since the early 1990s. Students sponsored by the company receive coaching and counseling from Barrick coordinators to help them graduate in their program.
In addition, the company loans each of its sponsored students a $5,000 set of tools that they get to keep upon completion of their program. Once students complete their respective programs, they have the potential to receive a permanent placement with their program sponsor.
Rice finds great value in working with the mining industry beyond financial contributions.
"What’s more important than the money is the partnerships and, while the money is good, our biggest beneficiaries are the students," Rice says.