Students transforming their lives honored by Big Bend

Dr. Lease, faculty and students at the Transforming Lives Night
Left to right – Terry Leas, BBCC President; Jon Lane, Board of Trustees Chair; Thomas Stredwick, BBCC Trustee; Juanita Richards, BBCC Trustee; Miguel Cruz-Santiago, current student; Anna Franz, BBCC Trustee; Agustina Gutierrez, BBCC Alumna; Stephen McFadden, BBCC Board of Trustees Vice Chair; James Leland, current BBCC student.

The Columbia Basin Herald

MOSES LAKE — It was on an inauspicious day two years ago that Jim Leland, a veteran, husband and father, was abruptly laid off from REC Silicon. He had worked there as a chemical operator for a year and a half, but he was still at the bottom of the totem pole and was just one of many who lost their jobs that day.

It was the second time he had been laid off from a job, and Leland decided it was going to be the last time – he wanted to work for himself. At a Worksource event with displays from various employers, Leland was pulled in to a Big Bend Community College booth demonstrating medical simulation devices. While he found the technology fascinating, he was more interested in a footnote program in unmanned systems that wasn’t quite off the ground.

The day the program became accredited, however, Leland was one of the first on board. He not only had to learn how to fly drones with professional precision, he needed to know how to build them or any other remotely-controlled vehicle, and he needed to know how to write the programs that made the whole thing work.

It was not Leland’s first time dipping his toes into the Byzantine world of software, having had spent time in a cubicle writing tax software for some time after he got out of military service. But for Leland, being stuck behind a desk for the rest of his life wasn’t a valid option.

But building drones from scratch and flying them in the great outdoors to improve surveying techniques for farmers, law enforcement and forest managers?

“It was a perfect fit,” Leland said.

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