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Beyond the News

Helping displaced energy workers form a new college path

Scholarships and business partnerships provide opportunities for degrees and entrepreneurships
University Business, November 2016
Skill-building—Former coal industry workers may find them-selves at the University of Wyoming researching how to use water byproducts from oil and gas wells.
Skill-building—Former coal industry workers may find them-selves at the University of Wyoming researching how to use water byproducts from oil and gas wells.

As American politicians tout plans to help displaced energy workers, universities are already creating scholarships and entrepreneurial opportunities to help the unemployed and underemployed gain footing in an ever-greening economy.

Ten scholarships for former energy workers offered by the University of Wyoming’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences can be used at the institution or toward an engineering degree at one of the state’s community colleges.

The $1,500 one-time award favors former coal workers, with dropping demand for coal particularly affecting Wyoming’s workforce, says Michael Pishko, dean of the college.

This scholarship for displaced workers (or one of their family members) ties in with the college’s renewed focus on local economic development, Pishko says.

Ohio University is working with several higher ed and company partners across 28 counties to create public work spaces where former energy industry employees can develop and potentially distribute new products, says Jennifer Simon, executive director of regional innovation.

The program reaches across states lines to Kentucky and West Virginia, where loss of coal revenue continues to sap local economies. Former energy workers’ experience is especially valuable, as they can identify realistic solutions to the lesser-known flaws of their industry, Simon adds.

The university’s Leveraging Innovation Gateways and Hubs Toward Sustainability (LIGHTS) program aims to create 125 new businesses and 1,110 jobs (plus raise $25 million in company investments) over the next six years. The program operates satellite hubs around the state, including in a regional innovation center, a business incubator and Zane State College’s IDEA Lab makerspace.

These spaces allow the public to use 3D printers, advanced design computers and manufacturing facilities. Ohio University will also host an executive coach and an engineering and design expert, both of whom will visit these spaces to guide budding entrepreneurs in developing services and products.

LIGHTS’ academic partners include Ohio State University, Shawnee State University and Somerset Community College. The program is supported by a $2 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Partnerships for Opportun­ities and Workforce and Economic Revitalization program.

“We’re turning makerspaces and incubators into community-based facilities,” says Simon. “There is opportunity to bring seasoned professionals into our innovation system, assisting them with ideas and turning them into businesses.”

The university is partnering with local welfare offices and work service programs to spread the word about LIGHTS.

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