Finger Lakes Community College is one of five community colleges from across the nation selected to share in a $1.9 million grant to design pilot programs to support rural students and drive economic growth.
The grant was awarded by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Education Design Lab. It will collaborate with FLCC over the next year to gather economic and labor data, brainstorm, and ultimately, design a pilot program to provide access and support to students.
The resulting project will address a specific area of need among learners and in the local economy. Focus areas are likely to include underserved populations in Wayne County, where FLCC has a campus center, and the healthcare and advanced manufacturing industries where demand continues to grow, said Todd Sloane, director of workforce and career solutions at FLCC.
Sloane is heading up FLCC’s team in the effort, called the BRIDGES initiative. BRIDGES is an acronym for Building Rural Innovation, Designing Educational Strategies. He is joined by colleagues Sim Covington Jr., chief diversity officer; Izy Grooms, associate professor of health science and human performance; Karen Fisher, associate director of assessment, planning and continuous improvement; Deb Corsner, director of the Newark Campus Center; and Katia Yagnik, bilingual admissions and financial aid counselor. Also joining the effort are Joseph Davis, employment and training programs supervisor for Yates County, and Jim VanKouwenberg, training and workforce development coordinator at Optimax Systems in Ontario, Wayne County.
The FLCC cohort will be joined every few months by representatives from Education Design Lab who will steer the process.
“We are really there to be facilitators to work with the institutions,” said Leslie Dougherty, education designer with Education Design Lab. FLCC was invited to apply for the selective grant. “We were looking for smart, excited community colleges that are already doing this work in some way, shape or form,” she added.
In addition to FLCC, selected colleges are the College of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls, Idaho; Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, Maine; Washington State Community College in Marietta, Ohio; and Zane State Community College in Zanesville, Ohio.
“These five community colleges bring a diverse group of core team members to the table, from large national employers to local chambers and small business development teams,” said Kathleen deLaski, founder and CEO of Education Design Lab. “The learnings from this first cohort will pave the way for other rural institutions as they look at building upon the strengths of their communities.”
FLCC will receive $20,000 to offset personnel costs related to work on the initiative, followed by $45,000 to help implement the pilot. The latter could be used for costs such as transportation or technology, Dougherty said. The remainder of the College’s share of the grant funding covers the costs of services provided by Education Design Lab.
The grant funding is provided by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit student loan guarantor and philanthropic organization.
“Over the next three years, this collaboration will surface new insights into innovative models with the potential to revitalize rural economies, prepare rural learners for success in high-demand fields and strengthen the communities served by this cohort,” said Danielle Vetter, senior program officer at Ascendium.
Sloane said the effort aligns with FLCC’s strategic plan and initiatives already underway, including a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion under the direction of Covington, the College’s first chief diversity officer.
“In the short-term, we believe this project will enable us to reach into a segment of our community that needs a connection to opportunity, whatever that project may look like,” he said. “The outcome of this will be impactful, meaningful programming that provides sustainable employment.”