FVSU Collaborates with GCSU to Strengthen Rural Communities
Posted on Jan 04, 2022
by Mechell Clark McCrary
Rural communities across the country are often overlooked and underrepresented when it comes to the distribution of important resources. Small agricultural towns are frequently plagued by a lack of technological advances and educational opportunities. However, a partnership between Fort Valley State University (FVSU) and Georgia College and State University (GCSU) aims to make rural communities throughout the state a top priority.
Research, outreach, and educational cooperation are at the center of the partnership. The two universities are collaborating to enhance broadband access, create economic development opportunities, and provide leadership training in rural Georgia agricultural communities. The partnership is led by Dr. Govind Kannan, FVSU Vice President for Economic Development and Land-Grant Affairs and Dr. Veronica Womack, GCSU Executive Director of Rural Studies Institute.
According to Dr. Kannan, the collaboration is a natural fit because both FVSU and GCSU are based in Middle Georgia and have similar objectives for advancing rural Georgia.
"Through this partnership, we would like to jointly develop programs to educate undergraduate students from both institutions on rural leadership," said Kannan. "Students will be given opportunities to work with extension personnel to learn firsthand about the challenges faced in rural communities. This understanding is critical for students to shape career paths for themselves that will bring about positive changes in economically strained districts."
Dr. Govind Kannan, FVSU Vice President for Economic Development and Land-Grant Affairs presents to agriculture community during Senator Raphael Warnock's visit to campus
Dr. Womack describes Georgia College as the state's public liberal arts college that is dedicated to building the future leaders, entrepreneurs and workforce for the state and beyond. By partnering with a land-grant institution like FVSU, Womack says it presents an opportunity for the universities to work together to achieve the missions of both institutions and develop unique strategies to address underutilization and underdevelopment in rural Georgia.
"The goal of this collaboration is to strategically engage the expertise provided by two distinct public institutions to strengthen rural Georgia communities," said Womack. This strategic initiative is dedicated to achieving this goal, as well as helping to build the physical infrastructure of rural communities within the state for economic development opportunities. In addition, the initiative is also dedicated to developing the leadership capacity of future leaders in our most rural and vulnerable places within the state."
One of the central components of the partnership agreement is to identify funding resources to provide rural residents with better access to broadband. When asked why this is a focus of the initiative, Dr. Kannan said access to information is key to rural development, but, unfortunately many rural communities nationally do not have broadband.
"This has become a fundamental need as more and more businesses are internet-based," said Kannan. "Additionally, it is critical for rural communities to be able to access funding opportunities, training programs and workshops, as well as complete applications for grants and contracts."
Womack agreed that broadband access is key to creating a thriving rural economy in Georgia and beyond. "The economy is globalized and dependent on being connected to the web." She also added the partnership with FVSU does not simply stop with providing internet to rural communities. It will also include training residents.
"We must recognize that access also includes not only the high-speed broadband service but also digital literacy among residents," said Womack. "As two institutions of higher education, we can also assist in building the skills of residents for digital literacy and tackling digital inequity within rural communities."
Many of the communities in which FVSU and GCSU will focus their attention are in some of the most rural counties in the state with the smallest populations. Many of these communities are within the Black Belt region of the state. Traditionally, these counties have been unable to successfully tap into the global economy due to a lack of physical infrastructure, limited workforce numbers and skills sets, high outmigration, low educational attainment, persistent poverty and other issues.
Despite these deficits, Womack says these communities have shown high levels of resilience and flexibility in finding ways to survive. "We are interested in working with these regions to identify assets within the communities in which to build sustainable development opportunities," she said.
These communities are made up of predominantly African American residents and a growing Hispanic population. These counties also are where most of Black farmers and other farmers of color reside. Yet, these counties typically are the least developed in the state; have less capital and finance to promote growth; lack philanthropic investment; and are not covered by any federal regional development commission or authority.
"Historically, the biggest challenge has been the lack of intermediary functions that will connect people to information and other resources," said Kannan. "Through this partnership with GSCU, we can perform these much-needed intermediary functions of connecting individuals to opportunities such that they can transform their ideas to businesses."
Womack added: "We are very excited about the possibility of identifying regional and state farmers to build and strengthen the local, regional and statewide food systems as a way to build and support farmer operations and markets."
The partnership will also offer an opportunity for students to earn a certificate or minor program in rural studies. The two program facilitators are particularly interested in students who would like to support rural communities. The initiative will not be based on geography or a specific major. The focus is interdisciplinary as the solutions for rural places are diverse.
"We hope to draw from all majors and interests," said Womack.
Currently, Womack and Kannan are in the developmental stages of the initiative to include identifying opportunities to fund the efforts they envision. As a part of the development plan, they are also reviewing other similar programs from around the country for collaborative certificate models, and plan to create a visioning group that encompasses members from both universities.
"We want to educate our students about the importance of rural places in an innovative, interdisciplinary educational experience that will provide them with the opportunity to engage others from these two institutions and rural communities."
Photos by Black Farmers Network and FVSU