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Date: Mon, Jun 20th, 2022

Great Falls College adding addictions counseling, business programs

Sandra Ortiz is going to study office management and supervision at Great Falls College. The program will be new to the college this fall.

GREAT FALLS – Billy Komeotis’ struggles with sobriety have fueled a deep desire in him to help others with addiction struggles.

Sandra Ortiz came to Great Falls College MSU with the desire to invest in herself after working lower wage jobs the past 20 years.

Both are excited the college is adding programs that will make it possible for them to realize their dreams as Great Falls College is adding a licensed addictions counselor program and a pair of business programs for the upcoming fall semester.

The college is adding the programs because the school’s admissions and advising offices frequently hear from people who want to go into those fields.

The programs also fall nicely into the college’s new strategic plan, which is nearly finalized and will go into effect for the next fiscal year on July 1.

“We took a long, hard look at the programs we are offering to ensure relevance and demand,” said Dr. Stephanie Erdmann, CEO/dean of Great Falls College. “And these programs stood out because people are requesting them, they will help fill workforce voids and they offer livable wages. We are really excited about these opportunities for our students and the community.”

The response to the addictions counseling program was strong and immediate.

“We could not believe the interest we heard from the public when we first announced we were considering this degree,” said Dr. Elfie Neber, a psychology faculty member. “And then we reached out to form an advisory panel and were just blown away by the community support.”

The program fills a huge community need.

“It’s going to be really easy for them to find jobs (when students graduate),” said George Meadors, an addictions counselor at Gateway Community Services. “The majority of addictions counseling places in Great Falls are currently looking for people.”

The business programs – a one-year certificate program in office support and a two-year office management and supervision degree – will give students the tools to succeed in office jobs, said Kerry Dolan, business and accounting program director at Great Falls College.

“Every business, from health care to manufacturing, needs employees who can help create and maintain an effective and efficient workplace,” Dolan said. “Our degree programs are set up to meet that need in as little as one year. We provide graduates with the technical and interpersonal skills that will make them a vital part of any organization.”

The timing of the addictions counseling program is perfect for Komeotis, who is anxious to help people before they get to the dark places life has taken him.

Komeotis, who is the kitchen manager at the Sting Sports Pub and Grill after working there about a dozen years, has been through a lot. He had a couple failed attempts at getting sober, and he eventually temporarily lost custody of his four daughters before becoming sober six years ago.

“After getting out of treatment, I have had a life change, eyes opened up, and I decided I want to be an addictions counselor to help people get to know where I am now,” Komeotis said “I know Great Falls. I know a lot of people in Great Falls, and a lot of people need help with their addiction.”

He tried school a couple of different times, but he was spread way too thin with raising his daughters and working full-time.

“I was putting work before school and my priorities weren't straight,” he said. “And I was sleeping like three hours a night.”

He decided in January to go back to school to become an addictions counselor since three of his daughters are now out of the house and he has time to try school again.

Great Falls College already was talking about starting the addictions counseling program, but he figured even if the program didn’t come to fruition, he could get his prerequisites done more affordably at Great Falls College than elsewhere.

Then came the good news that the school officially was starting the program.

“It was pretty much perfect timing because the addiction program was kind of building, and this time before I started, I told my boss I was putting school first this time,” Komeotis said.

He has mapped out the courses and plans to graduate in spring 2024.

Like Komeotis, the timing to return to school, is perfect for Ortiz.

Ortiz, who has been working as a para-educator in Great Falls for about 20 years, began taking accounting classes at Great Falls College as a way to improve her quality of life.

“I’m looking to make a living wage,” she said. “As a para-educator, or anything that I’ve done with kids, has always been minimum wage. And now both of my kids are either high school or graduated, so I can actually focus on myself.”

But she realized this past school year that accounting isn’t quite the right fit, so she was really pleased when she learned of the new business programs.

“This dropped right in my lap,” Ortiz said of the office management and supervision two-year track. “It was everything I need to know to be working in business office administration: payroll, the benefits, HR and just the simple things to work the front desk, like answering the phones, customer service, lots of Excel.”

She also is excited to stay in the business field at Great Falls College since Dolan is overseeing the new programs in addition to the accounting program.

“Oh my goodness, I took one of her classes last summer, and I’m just hooked,” she said. “And the way she teaches everything, she’s awesome. She makes you want to learn everything.”

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Record Number: 787