Kent State University’s Geauga campus has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that aims to bring rural Geauga and Ashtabula counties up to speed with the latest technological advancements in education, medicine, and development of the work force.
As the pandemic emerged in 2020, Kent State University regional campuses in Geauga and Ashtabula applied for the extensive distance learning grant. It’s a testament to the ability to be flexible and reach new learners who normally wouldn’t be reached without this type of innovation, said Lance Williams, director of special projects and operations at Kent State Geauga.
“This is a partnership grant with Kent State Geauga and Ashtabula campuses,” Williams said. “The total amount of funding was $585,046, but Geauga got $428,091. The goal is to create a digital link within our respected counties.
As the principal investigator of the grant project, Williams applied for funding through the CORD Project: Connecting Ohioans in Rural Areas Through Distance Learning, a USDA-funded grant. With matching 15% – $64,214 – in additional funding from Kent State University, the total amount for this project is $492,305. This makes it the largest federal competitive grant Kent State Geauga has ever received, according to the university.
Kent State Ashtabula received $156,955 in USDA grant funds for a total budget of $180,499, which includes matching funds. The joint grant project total between Kent State Geauga and Ashtabula is $585,046.
Distance education is seen as an opportunity to reach students, learners and residents of nearby counties, Williams said. The partnerships will offer workforce development and training, and bring college credit plus coursework to library and school district students.
On the Geauga side, Kent State has partnered with Geauga University Hospitals to provide telehealth training for nursing and paramedic students.
“We see this as a partnership between county organizations where we can expand access to education,” Williams said. “We asked for letters of support from students when we wrote this grant. One of the things we heard from students was the Zoom technology which allows for greater flexibility in how we deliver lessons. »
Kent State students will see the installation of an additional Zoom Room at the Geauga Campus, Twinsburg University Center and Ashtabula Campus. Each will be refitted with tracking technology cameras and overhead array microphones with autofocus technology. Geauga and TAC will use state-of-the-art light panels that will allow instructors to create immersive presentations and on-demand instructional content.
“This allows students from all campuses to attend a class with a single faculty member who is in the same location,” Williams said. “It gives greater flexibility in course offerings, which will also allow students to complete their degree on time and give them a greater choice of courses that fit their schedule. It’s a win-win. it’s also economical because we don’t need two different teachers to teach the same course on different campuses.
That kind of remote learning solution wasn’t really the backbone of the pandemic, Williams said, because the campus already had existing Zoom rooms. However, the pandemic has served as a reminder that innovation is part of new ways of teaching learners.
“These additional Zoom rooms give us greater ability to scale the number of remote learning opportunities we offer and the types,” he said. “Having our nurses be able to attend medical seminars and watch surgeries live from a local county hospital is an innovative approach that can supplement a student’s learning.”
Through the grant, various distance learning sites in local school districts and a few public libraries are ways to provide quality higher education opportunities for the entire county, said Amy Thomas, director of the Kent State Ashtabula Library.
“Distance is a factor and snow is a factor, and we don’t have a public transport system outside of Ashtabula,” she said. “It ends up being a barrier for students seeking higher education opportunities in our county. It’s our way of removing some of those barriers.
Going forward, Williams predicts the grant will also have a positive impact on enrollment. With the College Credit Plus program, seventh and 12th graders will have early access to take one level of coursework, which may encourage them to enroll in college. It also gives them a jump in their education.
“If you’re a student and you’ve completed 12 credit hours or 24 before high school graduation, you also end up saving money when you finally go to college,” he said. he declares. “You may be able to finish faster and you may not have to meet as many general education requirements.”
The grant also targets people in the labor market. Demographics showed that Geauga and Ashtabula counties have a significant number of residents who have earned college credits but do not have degrees, Williams said.
“This grant will allow them to complete a program that we offer,” he said. “They can get credit for classes they’ve already taken, and go to a local library in some cases and take some of those scheduled classes that they might not have time to drive to. our campus during the week.”
The second phase of the project has the potential to include other Kent State regional campuses, as well as more rural libraries and school systems as funded partners to share further equipment upgrades for distance learning capabilities. Geauga and Ashtabula campuses will coordinate to submit a joint proposal by 2023.