FARMINGTON — Randy Pacheco, dean of San Juan College's School of Energy, told a group of state lawmakers meeting in Farmington on Thursday that the college is changing lives.

"The School of Energy was built ten years ago to help people get jobs in energy," he told members of the Water and Natural Resources Committee during a meeting at the college. "We've found that with education and training, we can change lives. People go from earning minimum wage to earning forty- or fifty-thousand a year right out of college with an associates degree."

Pacheco showed the group statistics indicating that the consumption of energy will continue to rise over the next few decades, so the demand for energy-related jobs, such as those involved in petroleum technology, instrumentation and controls, and occupational safety, will also continue to increase.

Despite high college drop-out rates elsewhere, Pacheco said the School of Energy has a 90 percent completion rate, and said that many of the students who enroll in the program are those in need of a second chance. He highlighted some of the student success stories.

Pacheco's nephew is one of those success stories.

"He struggled in high school, and his teachers kept telling him he wasn't smart," Pacheco said. "But he graduated from the program and now makes $60,000 a year working for BP."

Pacheco said the school is moving ahead with plans to build a new 50,000-square-foot building on the northeast side of the college's main campus, and thanks to the generosity of local donors it has the $15 million needed to construct the building, which will house classrooms, labs, and numerous training venues.

"Our goal is to become the premiere model for energy training in the U.S.," said Pacheco. "If you know of a young man or woman who needs an opportunity, send them our way. That's what we're here for."

Leigh Black Irvin covers health for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4610 and lirvin@daily-times.com Follow her @irvindailytimes on Twitter.