Grant Funds Propel Rural Counties into the Future
Early in 2020 — just as the COVID-19 pandemic was emerging and before society was forced to shift to remote classrooms and telemedicine appointments — Kent State University’s Regional Campuses at Geauga and Ashtabula applied for an expansive distance learning grant from the federal government.
Now, it is poised to bring rural Geauga and Ashtabula counties on par with the latest technological advancements in education, medicine and workforce development.
“We saw this grant as an opportunity to innovate and offer more educational opportunities to students within our communities,” said Lance Williams, director of operations and special projects for Kent State University’s Geauga Campus and Twinsburg Academic Center (TAC). “Our collective vision positioned this grant to serve as a nexus between local schools, libraries and the workforce.”
In his capacity as principal investigator of the grant project, Williams sought $428,091 for Kent State Geauga through Project CORD: Connecting Ohioans in Rural Areas Through Distance Learning, a grant funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). With $64,214 (representing a 15% match) in additional funding from Kent State University, the total amount for this project is $492,305 — making it the largest federal competitive grant that Kent State Geauga has ever received.
Kent State Ashtabula received $156,955 in USDA grant funds for a total budget of $180,499 with matching funds. The total of the joint grant project between Kent State Geauga and Kent State Ashtabula is $585,046.
BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
The USDA grant program exists to help rural communities use distance learning to connect to each other — and to the world. It promises to help bridge the digital divide common in rural areas, where bandwidth is inadequate compared to more densely populated communities. For example, the connectivity enhancements this program provides can link teachers and medical service providers located in one area to students and patients in another.
Locally, this project will expand educational opportunities for middle and high school students who take college-level courses that count toward their high school diploma and college degree, effectively bolstering the K-12 school systems’ missions of providing quality education to their students.
The project also will benefit adults with some completed college coursework. Area residents will be able to enroll in degree programs that may lead to career advancement and income mobility opportunities that are aligned to regional employer needs.
Within the university, the project will enhance experiential learning activities for nursing and allied health students, who will gain more opportunities to demonstrate their critical thinking and clinical judgment skills. Now, the community’s future nurses and health care practitioners will be equipped to provide a better quality of care to rural residents.
POWERED BY COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS
With this in mind, Kent State Geauga has partnered with three Geauga County libraries, along with Berkshire Local Schools, Great Lakes Cheese and University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center. These partnerships will improve and expand community access to College Credit Plus (CCP), Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, as well as distance learning education, workforce development and telehealth education initiatives.
Ashtabula grant partners include Andover Public Library, Kingsville Public Library, Pierpont Township Board of Trustees, Grand Valley Local School District, Pymatuning Valley Local School District and SPIRE Institute. They will coordinate to connect resources to the residents of Ashtabula County, which is the largest county in Ohio, totaling nearly 1,400 square miles.
“We are pleased that Kent State University at Ashtabula is included, along with Kent State Geauga, as recipients of this grant,” said Kent State Ashtabula Dean and Chief Administrative Officer Susan J. Stocker, Ph.D.
“We have a mission to extend access to higher education and provide opportunity for learning and development to help better the lives of people in our communities,” Stocker said. “The technology that will be implemented with this grant will allow us to do that and has great potential to make a difference in the lives of so many people in Northeast Ohio.”
These initiatives will greatly benefit rural residents across two counties in northeast Ohio. All combined, they include:
- Distance learning education for seventh through 12th grades
- Credit-bearing courses and degree programs for adult learners
- Workforce training programs for area employees
- Community health outreach initiatives for residents
- Experiential learning opportunities for Kent State nursing and allied health students that will help improve patient care outcomes
Local Kent State students also will see the installation of an additional Zoom Room at the Geauga Campus, Twinsburg Academic Center and Ashtabula Campus — each to be equipped with dynamic locating technology cameras and ceiling array microphones with autofocus technology — that will enhance the distance learning experience.
Plus, both Geauga and TAC will be utilizing state-of-the-art lightboards that allow instructors to create immersive presentations and on-demand instructional content. Still, this represents just Phase One of the ambitious project.
Phase Two of the project has the potential to include additional Kent State Regional Campuses, along with more rural libraries and school systems as grant partners to share in further equipment upgrades for state-of-the-art distance learning capabilities. The Geauga and Ashtabula campuses will coordinate to submit a joint proposal by 2023.
“Our mission at Kent State Geauga and the Twinsburg Academic Center is to serve the educational needs of our community,” said Kent State Geauga Dean and Chief Administrative Officer Angela Spalsbury, Ph.D. “With our collective partners and funding from this grant, we are better able to serve more rural students and positively impact the lives of area residents.”
In his official announcement about this remarkable initiative, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) commented, “Ohio communities need access to the technology necessary to provide proper workforce development and health education services. This funding will give Kent State University the tools needed to adapt and ensure that community’s needs are being met.”