Learning center honors businessmen

By MARLA JO FISHER The Orange County Register

WESTMINSTER - It's been more than a decade since Frank Jao took real-estate classes at Coastline Community College, on his way to becoming Little Saigon's best-known developer of landmarks such as the Asian Garden Mall.

Now, he's giving back to the college that helped him. On Monday, Jao and friends Chieu and Yen Le of San Jose were special guests as the new Westminster Learning Center was named in their honor, in the wake of a $1 million contribution toward the college's first endowment campaign.

Article Tab: BENEFACTORS: Chieu and Yen Le, from left,  with Catherine and Frank Jao, unveil a  photograph of  Coastline’s new campus.
BENEFACTORS: Chieu and Yen Le, from left, with Catherine and Frank Jao, unveil a photograph of Coastline’s new campus.

"We are partners to give back to a community that has given us so much," said Jao, who came to the United States from Vietnam in a cargo plane in 1975, worked on an assembly line and sold vacuum cleaners door to door before turning to real estate and founding a $400 million business.

Coastline officials are enthusiastic to see their newly built campus open next month. Built for $12 million across from Westminster City Hall, it's the first community college campus ever built in that city, officials said.

It will serve about 1,500 students at night and 800 to 900 during the day, officials said. The college has about 8,500 students enrolled, about half of whom are distance learners who seldom or never come to a traditional classroom.

Instead of a single main campus, Coastline was founded in 1976 as a nontraditional college that now has four main learning centers in different west Orange County cities and a concentration on distance learning, in which courses are delivered through the Internet, TV broadcasts and videos.

The college had been leasing a closed elementary school at 5172 McFadden Ave. in Huntington Beach to serve as its nearest neighborhood center, but will now have 10 times the space in its new 33,000-square-foot building, Dean Shanon Christiansen said.

The campus was built on nearly an acre of vacant land across from City Hall that was owned by the city of Westminster and sold to the Coast Community College District for $613,000, officials said. Ground was broken in July 2004 for the building, which is expected to open next month.

"We were going around and looking at places to build, and in fact we looked at some of Frank Jao's places when he said, 'Why don't you go talk to the city?'" Christiansen said.

The new campus was christened the Le-Jao Center.

The site is part of a larger civic center project that includes the Westminster Cultural Center, to be completed in March 2006, that will have a 419-seat theater, banquet room and conference hall.

The district plans to launch a new biotechnology program to train technicians at the Westminster campus, Christiansen said.

"We're in a biotech area, with Irvine and Santa Ana nearby, and there's a lot of need to train technicians in the biotech area," he said.

The college will also launch a new program in Informatics, a computer science, which will train students for two years before sending them on to UC Irvine for the rest of their studies, he said.

The Informatics program will be launched with a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Christiansen said.

Both programs are expected to start up next fall. The district plans to work with the local high schools to encourage students to enroll.

The campus will also consolidate Coastline's English as a Second Language programs and offer 21 classrooms.

Jao, who is on the college's endowment board, said he hopes others in Little Saigon will also contribute.

He and his wife, Catherine, made the $1 million donation in partnership with a foundation established by the Les, founders of the Lee's Sandwiches fast-food chain of San Jose.

Yen Le said they were invited to join the effort by the Jaos and were happy to contribute. The Les made their contribution from a foundation set up to honor their son and business partner, Minh, who died in a car accident at age 21.

"This is an opportunity to have our family names joined together," Le said.

Contact the writer: (714) 796-7994 or mfisher@ocregister.com

Click here to read the article from OC Register

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