A program that helps bridge the rural-urban divide by fostering collaboration between the university and communities across Virginia has been named a finalist in the University Economic Development Association’s Awards of Excellence.
Higher education institutions from across North America submit nominations annually for innovative programs that focus on developing economic prosperity in their communities and beyond. Vibrant Virginia, created and run by the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development, is one of 15 finalists.
Started in 2018, Vibrant Virginia has funded seven grantee projects dealing with such topics as substance abuse disorder and tribal preservation, held 15 community conversations in four regions, and hosted three campus conversations widely attended by members of the Virginia Tech community. The program also developed a virtual conference series with the goal of gaining a deeper understanding of the economic challenges and opportunities in Virginia and the partnership role of higher education.
“It is an honor for our program’s practices to be viewed across the country and gain acknowledgment and recognition from our peers,” said John Provo, director of the Office of Economic Development. “Vibrant Virginia has examined important issues affecting the commonwealth and seeks to elevate the voices of community leaders, local governments, small businesses, nonprofits, and K-12 and university educators.”
Vibrant Virginia helps focus Virginia Tech’s approach to regional engagement by listening and responding to the needs of citizens across the commonwealth, said Susan E. Short, associate vice president for engagement in Outreach and International Affairs. “This is one of the key ways our faculty and staff are connecting with urban and rural communities and developing meaningful partnerships to help these communities address challenges and find opportunities.”
Vibrant Virginia will host two virtual conferences in September and October, and a Vibrant Virginia book is set to be published in April.
The Office of Economic Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs, connects the academic resources and facilities of the university with the economic development needs of companies, agencies, communities, and nonprofit organizations across Virginia. The office provides training, applied research, and technical assistance services to increase clients’ abilities to prudently manage economic change and improve their quality of life.
The University Economic Development Association awards are designed to encourage the adoption of innovative programs by other institutions and communities. Finalists are chosen through a nationally peer-reviewed process.
“In today’s uncertain economic environment, it is more important than ever for higher education institutions to engage with local economies and build infrastructures that can not only withstand but also thrive in an uncharted economic environment,” said Tim Hindes, UEDA executive director. “This year’s finalists represent some of the best university-led programs across North America and contribute to much of their local and state economic success.”
– Julia Kell