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    Friday, September 30, 2022

    Digital Innovation Hub at Mitchell College to provide shorter-term workforce training to meet community needs

    New London — Mitchell College will use $555,000 in federal funding to create a Digital Innovation Hub for Educational Excellence, offering virtual programming — with an in-person component — for people to do coursework for career advancement in areas such as behavioral health, cybersecurity and leadership development.

    President Tracy Espy said while she wants people to come to Mitchell for a degree, the college also wants to help people who may not need to come for four years — a goal that is particularly relevant given labor shortages across industries and the country.

    "Higher education is about meeting the demands and needs of the community as well, and that's how we got here," Espy said.

    The Department of Education now is reviewing the project before releasing the funding, but the college is moving ahead in the meantime, such as by developing a job description for the director of the center.

    "It's a ramp-up," Espy said. In addition to personnel, she said, the federal funding will be used for technology upgrades, furnishings and noise-canceling infrastructure.

    She said the hub can provide training to upskill and reskill people in other parts of the country, but there will also be a physical space within the college's library. Katie Nazarian, interim director of library and information services, said people could gather with their cohort or instructor in the physical space, with sound panels creating individual zones.

    Nazarian said the goal is to keep it as flexible as possible, so that if the hub outgrows this space, everything can be repurposed.

    U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, visited Mitchell College on Tuesday to discuss the Community Project Funding he secured for the Digital Innovation Hub for Educational Excellence and to get a tour of the library space. Also joining were alumni, faculty and staff.

    After a 10-year hiatus on earmarks due to what Courtney called "some pretty shady examples," community projects are back but now for only nonprofits and public entities. The Digital Innovation Hub is one of 10 projects — whittled down from a lot more applications — the congressman secured funding for in the 2022 budget.

    "My name was like chiseled on granite so it was completely clear where it came from," Courtney said, adding that there was external vetting of the projects.

    Courtney said the previous earmarks system "was clearly abused" but not having Community Project Funding damaged the budget process because members of Congress felt like they had no skin in the game. He cited government shutdowns as an example of what could happen.

    The House Appropriations Committee last July approved bills that included Courtney's funding request for the Digital Innovation Hub. Espy said in a press release from Courtney's office at the time that the hub furthers the college's commitment to the state's workforce strategy "through academic innovation and increasing access to training in both the STEM and mental health fields, all through the lens of neurodiversity and adaptability."

    President Joe Biden signed the 2022 budget into law last month, making the $550,000 for Mitchell College official.

    Speaking Tuesday about the value of the Digital Innovation Hub, Courtney said speed "is a very strong attribute" right now and there's a need for "an accelerated process for people to reinvent themselves." He added that smaller companies don't necessarily have the capacity to do training in-house.

    "Job training got labeled as a manufacturing sector issue, which it is, but there's no question it's much broader," Courtney said.


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