$1M grant to fund innovation hub at VUJC


New possibilities are on the way for all students at Dubois County public schools thanks to a shared $1 million Regional Opportunity Initiatives grant that aims to align the school districts with the education and workforce needs of local employers and industry.

According to an ROI press release dated Friday, a county-level career and innovation hub will be developed at Vincennes University Jasper Campus to serve as a central location for grant management and the collaboration and alignment between industry and the four school districts — Greater Jasper Schools, Southwest Dubois Schools, Southeast Dubois Schools and Northeast Dubois Schools — with the funding.

VUJC is supplying in-kind space to house this nucleus — which will be called Hub 19 — and the facility will also coordinate teacher training and become the county’s location to explore innovative teaching models and curricula.

Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang said the schools will hire a coordinator to run the hub prior to the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.

An advanced manufacturing academy will also be housed at VUJC to create opportunities for students from all four school districts and the Patoka Valley Career and Technical Education Cooperative. Students will be able to enroll in coursework and earn credentials to prepare them for employment in manufacturing.

VUJC Dean Christian Blome said courses are slated to launch at the academy in Fall 2019. Classes will not be taught at Hub 19, which will primarily be a location for grant management. Classes will be taught at the academy. While both Hub 19 and the academy will be housed at VUJC, each serves a separate purpose.

Existing programs at the county schools will also be bolstered through the funding, which comes from ROI’s Ready Schools Initiative. Rick Gladish, Dubois County Ready Schools coordinator, has previously said local industry needs people to fill jobs that require a certain level of training in addition to production line positions.

“This has been an incredible experience,” Hochgesang said in the press release. “Ready Schools has enabled our four school districts and local industry to work together for the first time on a significant initiative. This work will create many more opportunities for students for years to come, and we hope that our collaborative approach will serve as a model for other communities. We invite other schools and workforce partners to visit Dubois County and see how we put our Ready Schools work into practice during the implementation phase.”

About a year ago, the four Dubois County school districts were awarded a planning grant of about $300,000 that allowed coordination teams to engage district, community and industry stakeholders to better align their educational programming with the workforce opportunities in the county. That planning process began with a phase of interviewing students, teachers, parents and local industry members about ways they wanted to improve the schools through the grant, and the data was then analyzed before priorities were ranked and the grant’s budget was established.

In the press release, Todd Hurst, ROI director of education and workforce, praised the local schools for the work they did leading up to their application. Loogootee Community Schools also submitted a proposal and received a separate grant and Brown County Schools is in the process of completing its proposal.

“The implementation proposals we received from the Dubois and Loogootee Ready School teams were well crafted and reflect a strong commitment to long-term collaborations between schools and industry,” Hurst said. “Each of the Ready School teams took the time to work together with schools, community leaders and stakeholders, and local industry to identify and design locally driven solutions. The teams developed strategies that offer students a variety of post-secondary options, including certifications, 2-year degrees, 4-year degrees, and beyond.”

The three pillars the Dubois County schools built their grant blueprint on include teaching employability skills, creating pathways for students and focusing on career exploration and awareness in kindergartners through high school seniors, and engaging all students in relevant learning.

Blome sees the grant as an opportunity to grow leaders locally.

“The hope is it will expose Dubois County high school students to the many career opportunities that exist here locally in ways that they weren’t before,” he said. “We’re hoping to grow interest and attract students to pursue those careers and therefore increase that pipeline of potential employees into local industry.”

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