The Pima Joint Technical Education District welcomed a $1 million donation from Ross Potoff Private Philanthropy at the Program Completion Ceremony on Friday, May 17.
Bill Westcott, executive director of Potoff Private Philanthropy, made the announcement for the newly established organization. While the donation was initially slated to give $350,000 to JTED, Potoff instead pledged $1 million to benefit K-12 students.
Pima JTED offers more than 50 tuition-free career and technical training programs to high school students, gearing them up for careers in fields like software development, fashion design, law and diesel mechanics.
The foundation is meant to help as a resource and provide what the district cannot, including program materials some students may not be able to afford, said Pima JTED governing board clerk Brenda Marietti.
“[Potoff] has always been very generous,” Marietti said. “He shocked the whole stadium when he pledged $1 million. It will be fantastic for the students of Pima JTED.”
The donation will be used to improve and strengthen programs, expand recruitment and provide mentoring and advisory services, as well as job placement to students. It will also support building plans to expand the Innovative Learning Campus and provide spaces that will be used to offer programs like 3D animation, game design, robotics, automation, mechatronics, and health care programs. One building is in construction already, and two more 50,000 square foot buildings will be added to the campus.
Ross Potoff recently retired from being a research specialist at the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences, where he worked for more than 40 years.
Growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut, Potoff began working at a very young age for his father, a manufacturer working in silk-screening. Interested in trade work, Potoff attended W.F. Kaynor Technical High School and entered an exploratory class that opened his eyes to precision machining. He credits the tech school with giving him the best possible education, leading to a successful career working with drones in the Air Force, and developing machinery for scientific experiments in the Thin Films Lab at UA.
After Potoff’s retirement, he approached Bill Wescott to find a technical school to support. Wescott connected Potoff with Allen Storm, Ph.D., the superintendent at Pima County JTED.
According to Wescott, Potoff saw a gap in the educational system and great potential in entering a trade.
When Potoff began school, “kids were put on a college track or put in home economics and shop,” Wescott said. “There weren’t many opportunities for kids who were put on the shop track, beyond going to work in a welding shop or autobody shop. He thought there was more there in terms of creativity in the trades. And jobs out there can be very good.”
Potoff previously made two $50,000 donations to Pima JTED, committing to $250,000 more in 2018 for a total of $350,000. Then he surprised everyone, announcing he would continue to support Pima JTED with a pledge of $1 million at the program completion ceremony. This is in addition to the $5,000 scholarships the philanthropy granted to students who have created videos about why they love Pima JTED. The donation is considered a partnership between Potoff Private Philanthropy and Pima JTED.
“We’re grateful that JTED has been open to collaboration with us,” Wescott said.
With technical training like at Pima JTED, “employers can start off with a new employee who has a lot of high-level training,” Wescott added.
“We believe that the trades can be revived in the apprenticeship category and that kids can reliably get trained in school in industries that qualify them for higher training jobs... The workforce will be trained, the workforce will grow, and the Southern Arizona economy will grow with it,” he said.
Meredith O’Neil is a university of Arizona journalism graduate student and Tucson Local Media intern.