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Eyes on the Future at CEI

New building to focus on technology and workforce training

Published online: Jan 17, 2022 Articles, Education And Arts, Lifestyle Steve Smede
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In business, development is spurred by demand. But in order for a community to meet that demand, it has to first build a foundation in education and training.

For Idaho Falls, we can file this emerging challenge under the header of “Good Problem to Have,” thanks to the emerging workforce training and technology programs at the College of Eastern Idaho (CEI)—formerly known as Eastern Idaho Technical College.

The critical component is having the right people in place. But what if that place doesn’t yet exist?

“You look at technology and skills, and all the things that go into building an economy and creating jobs, there’s a nexus occurring here over the next 3 to 5 years,” said Dr. Rick Aman, President of the College of Eastern Idaho. “Right now, though, we don’t have the kind of building that would actually support the type of teaching and learning that we want to do.”

Enter CEI’s forthcoming Future Tech Project and its dedicated building, which will serve as a nexus for the college’s emerging energy, environment and technology programs. 

“Between these programs, we expect to have about 1,000 students coming through this building every year,” said Ann Marie Peters, CEI’s Director of Strategic Partnerships.

The building is also expected to house the college’s workforce training programs.

This spring, Peters and Aman unveiled a “fly-through” video animation detailing the new building, complete with field-testing labs for engineering and manufacturing, spacious doors for moving equipment, solar arrays and a beautiful terrace with its own 5,000-square-foot conference center.

According to Peters, the importance of this latter feature can’t be overstated—not just for students, but for the community at large. “It’s a much bigger space than anything we currently have on campus,” she said. “It can be split into three separate rooms, and even with its portable stage in place, it can seat 350 people.”

It will be a student-centered building, so faculty office space will be limited. From classrooms to build-labs, server rooms and the main operating center, glass walls will be a recurring feature. Further adding to the feel of open space, the 88,000-square foot building’s interior will feature a wide, sprawling staircase where students can gather and collaborate.

“When we first got the design for this from the architects, we were actually feeling like this was, frankly, a waste of space,” Peters said. “But as we did more research with other institutions, we realized this is very widely used, and is very popular with students.” 

The ample open-space areas throughout the structure will also be conducive to exhibition events, such as a student showcase, a K-12 robotics competition or a science fair.

“This is a technology building with a lot of flexibility,” Aman added. “As we’ve gone through this, there is a lot of opportunity to merge future projects and training programs, some of which we can’t imagine right now.”

Funding thus far looks promising, with $10 million in construction costs earmarked by the state legislature and another $2 million set aside by the college’s board of trustees. That still leaves another $30 million to bring the project to full fruition, however.

“The vision is clear,” Peters said. “It’s needed, and it’s going to make a huge difference for our employers’ pipeline and for our students to have great jobs.”

If all goes as hoped, the building will be complete and ready for classes in the fall of 2024. 

“The sooner we get this built, the better, because the demand is there right now,” Aman said. 

For more information, email or


College of Eastern Idaho was the only post-secondary institution in the state to increase its enrollment in Fall 2020. Numbers were up 11% overall and 34% in high school dual credit courses.

A Community College For All

From its roots as a hands-on trade school, the institution now known as the College of East Idaho (CEI) has blossomed into a multi-faceted center for higher learning in Idaho Falls.

CEI programs categories include Business, Health & Human Services, Technology, Trades & Industry, General Education, College & Career Readiness, Job Corp, Online Learning and Outreach Centers. The college also offers a Workforce Training and Continuing Education (WTCE) center, including certification training in cybersecurity and other areas.

“We’ve really transformed the student experience here over the last 4 years. Every year, semester after semester—even through the pandemic—we’re up in enrollment,” said Mike Walker, the college’s Dean of Students. “In fact, we’re the only college in Idaho that can say we’ve been up [in enrollment] since our inception. Just like Idaho Falls is having a moment, College of Eastern Idaho is having a moment as well.”

According to Todd Wightman, CEI Director of Communications and Marketing, it probably also helps that even under its new banner as a fully-fledged community college, CEI is smaller than the other universities. ”With COVID coming onto the scene, we were able to move more quickly, and stay ahead of the issues,” he said. “In fact, the college was already expanding its online option before the pandemic hit.” 

That made it even easier to pivot when virtual programs become not just optional but necessary.

In October of 2020, the college received a $120,000 federal grant for childcare services over the course of four years. “It took a lot of work, but we got it,” Walker said. “This is a huge benefit for younger students who couldn’t otherwise afford those services.”

Another serendipitous moment came 10 months earlier when the college started offering up free mental health services to its students.

“Think about that,” Walker said. “This was January 2020, just in the nick of time as the pandemic was beginning.”

Other new services include an on-campus food pantry and student-veteran services fund.

“To make a transition from a technical college to a community college in such a short amount of time was overwhelming, but the type of people we have here and continue to hire, we have such a wonderful team,” Wightman said. “They are always willing to get in and do whatever it takes to make it work.”

For potential students still weighing their options, the college has its own team of career counselors and academic advisors. “If you live in Eastern Idaho, we can find something that will work for you,” Walker said. 

For the full gamut of classes, programs and other offerings, check out CEI online at


Cyber, ESTEC

(Energy Systems), Nuclear Technician, Computer

Network Technician, Software/Web, Radiation

Safety, Agri-Tech, Engineering Technician,

GIS Modeling/Virtual Reality, Machine Tool

Technology/Advanced Manufacturing,

Battery, Solar



• 17,355 students served in 2020-2021

• 97% placement for workforce-training students

• CEI was the only post-secondary

institution in Idaho to increase

enrollment in Fall 2020: up 11% overall

and 34% in high school dual credit


• CEI is about one-third the cost of

Idaho universities.

Click here to read more of the January issue of Idaho Falls Magazine. 


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