TSU awarded #036;350,000 USDA grant

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 6, 2000

Staff Writer

Jan. 5, 1000 10 PM

U.S. Congressman Terry Everett and officials from the United State Department of Agriculture presented a $350,000 grant to Troy State University Wednesday to set up a distance learning network there.

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Everett and Beverly Helton, acting state director for USDA Rural Development, gave the check to Jack Hawkins Jr., chancellor of the Troy State University System.

The funds will assist in the purchase of distance learning equipment for the Southeast Alabama (SEAL) Technology Network, which will provide distance learning courses and training for area school systems, businesses and government agencies.

The money was awarded through the USDA’s Distance Learning/Telemedicine program, Helton said.

The $350,000 grant to Troy State University is one of four distance learning grants awarded by USDA in Alabama last year, Helton said. These four grants – totaling more than $1 million – are the result of nationwide competition for project funding.

"USDA funding, such as this grant, gives rural Alabama the opportunity to become more competitive than ever before as a place to do business and a place where families do not have to settle for inferior education and medical services," she said.

Since 1993, $81 million has been invested in 304 projects through USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedic program, Helton said. Loans and grants for distance learning and telemedicine initiatives are available to education and health care providers to enhance learning and health care initiatives in rural schools, libraries and health clinics.

"As we enter the new millennium, Troy State University is set to employ 21st century communications technology to wire rural southeast Alabama communities to more challenging education, cutting edge job training and advanced medical technology," Everett said. "I am truly excited about the potential of this new distance learning project to raise the horizons of rural southeast Alabama students and provide high-tech training to enhance the productivity of Wiregrass workers and our local economy.

"Even rural hospitals and local government can benefit. The SEAL program is an excellent example of what good can be accomplished when state and federal government work with local experts to improve the quality of life for our citizens," he said.

Bill Flinn, assistant vice chancellor for technology, said SEAL’s first major project is providing courses for 11 rural high schools in Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Crenshaw, Henry and Pike counties. The first courses are scheduled to begin this fall.

"Troy State will work with the county school superintendents to decide what kind of classes to offer," he said. "Our Distance Learning Center, which will design the programming for SEAL, will work with teachers from each system."

"We are starting the new year with this announcement that will have a major impact on this part of Alabama and the world," Hawkins said. "This university has long been a leader in distance education because we are a people-oriented university.

"We think globally here, but it is important to act locally. At the heart of TSU is a concern for Southeast Alabama."

TSU Vice Chancellor Doug Patterson said training for business and industry will play a large role in the network’s programming.

"The network can be used to provide specific training to one company, such as Lockheed Martin," Patterson said. "But it can also provide training on issues that are common to all businesses, such as workplace safety education and compliance with the American with Disabilities Act."

The training program could be extended to local governments, he said, with continuing education for public officials and public-service employees, such as police officers or firefighters.

Future plans also include the use of the network to assist rural hospitals and clinics with connections to research hospitals so that advanced medical expertise can be extended to rural area.

Also part of the program is a training center at the Lockheed Martin in Troy that will be a cooperative effort among Pike County, City of Troy, Troy State University and Lockheed Martin. It will be used to teach workers and management the skills they need to construct the missiles produced by Lockheed.

Although the training center and video conferencing network will be established between Lockheed and TSU, its use will not be limited to the two businesses.

"The possibilities of this network are endless," Patterson said. "We’re taking the initial step of creating a communications hub for Southeast Alabama.

"This means that citizens in rural areas will have increased opportunities for better education and training."

Patterson said the initial funding for the network of $1.75 million is provided by a combination of the USDA grant, a $1 million state bond issue, a $400,000 appropriation from the Alabama Legislature

The network will use a combination of audio/video teleconferencing and the Internet to deliver the programs.