Southwest Virginia lawmakers and AVU leaders strategize for regional economic vitality

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WISE – State lawmakers, board members and college administrators gathered here on Friday to discuss strategies and ideas supporting the University of Virginia College at Wise as a driver of development economical for Southwest Virginia.

Virginie Dels. Terry Kilgore, Will Morefield and Will Wampler; AVU President Jim Ryan; AVU rector Whittington Clement; UVA Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry; and members of the AVU Visitors Council attended the AVU Wise College Board of Trustees meeting at the David J. Prior Convocation Center.

Legislative and academic leaders engaged in a lively brainstorm on how best to promote UVA Wise as an industry catalyst and recruit more students with the goal of economically improving the region’s future. .

“UVA Wise trains amazing students,” Ryan said. “I think a lot of them would like to stay in this area, but right now there aren’t enough jobs. The area would be better off if they could stay.

Kilgore said the area has had employment and population retention issues since the decline of the coal industry. This demographic decline also cost the region a seat in the House of Delegates of the General Assembly.

“It really hurts us in terms of representation,” Kilgore said, adding that it remains important for Southwest Virginia to retain and develop energy industries such as clean coal, gas and power. solar.

“We always want to be the energy resource of the Commonwealth,” he said.

Technology is also gaining momentum as a key regional industry. Recent success came when Earthlink, an Internet service provider, moved jobs overseas to Wise County.

Earthlink CEO went to JJ Kelly High School [a former Wise County public school]. He wanted to come home and help our region. We’re looking for more stories like this, ”Kilgore said.

UVA Wise helped relocate Earthlink and helped spark strong economic success, Kilgore added.

Ryan said broadband expansion could provide an opportunity to make more virtual internships available to UVA Wise students.

“More and more people are working remotely because of the pandemic,” he said. “Virtual internships can turn into virtual jobs and inspire them to start a business here. “

Ryan’s suggestion comes after UVA called on alumni to offer virtual internships to students during the pandemic.

“We are pleased that you are here and that you continue this partnership between the parent institution and its outpost in Southwest Virginia,” Del said. Wampler to meeting participants. “Without this institution, Southwest Virginia would not have the same educational and upward mobility opportunities. UVA Wise has state-of-the-art university facilities and programs.

UVA Wise has already made significant investments in paid internships through its Wise Works program, which encourages the creation of paid internships for students by sharing costs with companies around the world, said Shannon Blevins, UVA vice-chancellor. Wise for administration, government relations and strategy initiatives.

“Harnessing the power of UVA and UVA Wise alumni is a great opportunity to develop this experiential learning opportunity and provide a way for students to stay in Southwest Virginia,” said added Blevins.

Of the. Morefield also expressed his gratitude for UVA’s support to UVA Wise and stressed the urgency of accessible healthcare and a strong educational network to be successful. “We have so many opportunities and you [UVA] planted these seeds for expansion, ”he said.

One of these Wise UVA-UVA collaborations focuses on growing the regional healthcare workforce. In the fall of 2022, UVA Wise will begin offering the University of Virginia Family Nurse Practitioner program, enabling nurses to earn a master’s degree in nursing.

The group visited the existing building which will soon be renovated for nursing training.

“We have a great opportunity in healthcare,” Kilgore said. “If you’ve been to a hospital, you can’t find enough nurses. The intensification of nurse practitioner programs is opening up opportunities to attract many students to us.

Carlos Brown, AVU Visitors’ Council member, asked what other support would boost registrations, noting that increased registrations spur economic growth. “You get parents who come to the hotel, attend games,” he said. “You must have that spark.”

Kilgore credited the Appalachian Regional Commission Initiative’s tuition reduction for already improving enrollment efforts. As part of this initiative, students who live outside of Virginia but within regional board boundaries may be eligible for a significant reduction in out-of-state tuition fees.

“Our registration was traditionally 95% in-state and 5% out-of-state. Now we have 13% out of state. We are getting name recognition in North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky. They are now looking to come to Wise, and that will continue to help, ”said Chris Dearth, UVA Wise Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management.

The increased recognition of regional names not only potentially increases student enrollment, but also further develops the college as an economic engine.

The strategy, Dearth said, promotes UVA Wise as the region’s natural resource-focused destination college.

“Many would say the industry has left the region and is in dire straits. The answer is not to look at it from that point of view, but rather that southwest Virginia has strengths, ”Wampler said. “It’s one of the prettiest parts of the Commonwealth. The price of affordable housing is overpriced in northern and central Virginia, but in southwest Virginia, owning a home is still affordable. is a force.

Chancellor Henry spoke about college-specific resources needed, including affordable and temporary housing nearby and childcare services for faculty and staff. She hopes to create a daycare center on campus.

Other attendees on Friday included Wise County Administrator Mike Hatfield and Beth Rhinehart, Chief Executive Officer of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce.

“From massive recruitment in local schools and through the Appalachian Regional Commission to increasing our endowment to support students, hiring more teachers and staff, renovating spaces for our nursing programs and Growing ROTC, and continuing to expand our graduate program, there is significant momentum at UVA Wise right now, ”said Henry. “We are grateful for the generous support of the University and regional partners as we do our part to grow our students and our communities. “

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