‘The engine that powers Colorado’

Emily Griffith Technical College celebrates 105 years

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As they walk through the halls of Emily Griffith Technical College, students are reminded that their future awaits them with one catchphrase: “Our mission is to prepare our students for today’s workforce and tomorrow’s opportunities.”

“I chose Emily Griffith because I believe so deeply in the school,” said Katie Broz of Denver, who will be graduating from the college’s web development program in November. “It is truly an amazing legacy.”

Emily Griffith opened her Opportunity School on Sept. 9, 1916. Her vision was simple — it was to be a school for anyone who wished to learn — but the impact her school has had is much greater.

Griffith, a former educator with Denver Public Schools, was inspired by the parents of the children she taught and came to believe that education offered a pathway out of poverty.

And she believed that education should be accessible to all.

“The vision of Emily Griffith has stayed strong,” said Randy Johnson, executive director of Emily Griffith Technical College. “It’s just who we are.”

A light for its students

The heart of Emily Griffith Technical College is making education accessible, Johnson said. The college prides itself on being able to offer some of the lowest tuition rates in Colorado, as well as scholarships and financial aid awards to qualifying students.

This year, Emily Griffith Technical College is celebrating its 105th anniversary and is recapping the ways the school has supported its students, including what it calls the “104 requests” — an initiative that started last September in partnership with the Emily Griffith Foundation.

In a news release that was issued last year about the initiative, Lulu Lantzy, director of innovation and partnerships at Emily Griffith Technical College, said, “we’ve made a commitment to provide above and beyond support to 104 students and alumni over the next year as a way to give back to our community, like Emily (Griffith) herself would have done.”

How it worked was students and alumni submitted a request — big or small — and the school and the foundation worked to fulfill 104 of them.

However, even after the 104 requests are completed, the Emily Griffith Foundation has a 360 Fund that will continue to provide resources for students who need support.

Emily Griffith Technical College is “acting on our vision of removing barriers for opportunity,” Lantzy said.

Some of the barriers people may face range from being food-insecure or unable to afford daycare or transportation, to needing financial aid assistance or the education to obtain a licensure to enter a specific employment field, Lantzy said. The school also anticipated additional challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the need for a personal laptop.

“We saw what was happening,” Lantzy said, “and we wanted to be a light.”

Providing a talent pipeline

Griffith’s Opportunity School was one of the first trade schools in the nation, and today, it is a nationally accredited public college. A name change from Opportunity School to Technical College happened in 2010, to further align the college with higher education.

Emily Griffith Technical College has always been affiliated with Denver Public Schools, though it welcomes students from well beyond the district’s boundaries.

The college has served more than 2 million students — roughly 8,000 students annually — in its career and technical education, apprenticeships, English language classes, GED preparation and customized workforce training programs.

In addition, the school boasts a great track record of success. Numbers from 2019 reveal that Emily Griffith sits at 86% for program completion and 81% for job placement, Johnson said.

Johnson attributes some of the school’s accomplishments to its partnerships and collaborations with industry employers.

Emily Griffith is “deeply rooted in the center of Denver,” Johnson said, adding that employers look to Emily Griffith for their talent pipeline.

Innovation for the 21st century

According to Emily Griffith Technical College’s website, word about Griffith’s dream of opening her Opportunity School spread throughout Denver after she mentioned it to a Denver Post reporter, who published a feature story on it. Eventually, the Denver Board of Education provided Griffith with the condemned Longfellow School located downtown near 13th and Welton streets.

Today, Emily Griffith Technical College boasts three state-of-the-art facilities — the main campus, located at 1860 Lincoln St. in Uptown; the trades campus, located at 1205 Osage St. in Lincoln Park; and the video campus, located at 200 E. Ninth Ave. in Capitol Hill.

Emily Griffith Technical College is constantly innovating to best meet the needs of its students. For example, a new component of the school’s partnership with Denver Health provides graduates of the college’s Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program the opportunity for employment at Denver Health’s new Outpatient Medical Center (OMC). Additionally, students and graduates of the college’s Culinary Arts and Culinary Quick Start programs have the opportunity to operate the new Denver Health OMC Café Powered by Emily Griffith.

The CNA and culinary arts programs are not the only two that offer students hands-on experience in the trade — some students gain work experience serving the public at the school’s student-run businesses, which include Emily’s Salon & Barbershop, Emily’s Café, Emily’s Massage and Emily’s Spa.

Griffith’s Opportunity School of the early 1900s was designed so that students could attend their classes when they were able, whether it be day or night. That model is still in place today. In fact, Emily Griffith Technical College began offering hybrid classes well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Opportunity School got its start with class offerings such as telegraphy, industrial millinery, typing, academic subjects and English language classes, states the college’s website. “During World War I, the school trained soldiers in radio communications and civilians for special mathematics, drafting, tractor and ambulance driving, and gas engine work,” states Emily Griffith Technical College’s website. Additional departments were added during World War II, which included war production training, food conservation and victory gardening.

Now in the 21st century, Emily Griffith Technical College is meeting the needs of today’s technology-driven demands in industry, such as offering programs in web development and cybersecurity, among others.

A new program focused on the construction industry will be offered next year. The Virtual Design Construction Academy program will allow students to gain essential skills to achieve gainful employment with top construction, engineering and architectural companies across Colorado, states a news release.

Going above and beyond

Students tend to choose Emily Griffith for its community and reputation of staff “going above and beyond,” Lantzy said.

“The Practical Nursing Program at Emily Griffith Technical College has provided me with the possibility to reach my goal of becoming a nurse. The instructors are always rooting for my success in the program,” said Ana Sotelo of Parker. “I have built strong friendships and bonds that will last a lifetime.”

Each student who walks through Emily Griffith’s doors has a vision of hope, Johnson said. The school’s graduates range from becoming highly desired skilled professionals to entrepreneurs who start their own businesses, Johnson added.

“We have the ability to immediately affect the economy,” Johnson said, adding that Emily Griffith Technical College is a huge resource to the community.

And that includes its students and alum, Johnson said. “We’re the engine that powers Colorado.”

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