By Jeff Noble
TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
Union College greeted the students back to school — and welcomed a $1.5 million grant from the federal government — during its Fall Convocation Thursday morning.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine brought the announcement of the funding from Washington.
Addressing a packed Robsion Arena, Erskine said the Economic Development Administration grant would be used to renovate the old Knox County Hospital building into the Health and Natural Sciences Building. The facility, located just off the campus, is the new home of Union’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences.
After he spoke, students, staff and faculty got out of their seats, giving Erskine and other dignitaries seated behind him a standing ovation.
“I look forward to the ribbon cutting in October. The future of this region depends on you,” he said to the audience in his closing remarks.
“We will make excellent use of the funding,” replied Union’s President Dr. Marcia Hawkins after the ovation ended.
Erskine noted the nursing school at Union would train workers for health care jobs in southeastern Kentucky, a growing part of the region’s economy.
“The model was to support the ideas and plans the communities provide for business growth and overall economic prosperity. We have to pick the best ones to support, as well as getting the best return for the taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.
It was Hawkins who let those attending the convocation know there was something exciting about to happen.
“All these people behind me are here for a reason. They’re here to celebrate an achievement, with the Union College School of Nursing and the renovating of the old Knox County Hospital. It was the Knox County Fiscal Court who helped us get the old hospital building … This was truly a local, state, regional and national partnership, and we have a lot to thank for that,” she said.
“The fall is always an exciting time for students at Union College, especially with the renovation of the old Knox County Hospital. This project will provide opportunity and leadership for years to come,” added Barbourville Mayor David Thompson.
Knox County Judge-Executive J. M. Hall told the convocation, “The building is completed, the nursing program is here, and I’m proud to say we’re proud to be a part of the growth of Union College.”
Along with Erskine, one of those people behind the speaker’s podium was Earl Gohl, federal Co-Chair for the Appalachian Regional Commission, based in Washington, D.C.
“Each agency understood it was a great investment, because the students at Union College can do great things. There work is to make incredible changes to Appalachia. Your goal is to finish your degree at Union College, because you folks make the changes Appalachia needs,” Gohl said.
After the grant announcement, Erskine, Gohl, Hall, Thompson and other officials left the convocation for a tour of the Health and Natural Sciences Building. The tour was conducted by the college’s Physical Plant Director James Jamerson, who showed the group the old hospital building had been transformed into a new, ultramodern facility designed for health care students’ needs.
Erskine said after the tour, “It’s very impressive. It’s always great to see reuse of an existing building into a building used for a new need. You preserve the history, and you continue the process. If I was a student or a faculty member, I’d want to be here.”
The college’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences was established in 2010, and is home to Union’s nursing and athletic training programs.
According to Union’s website, the RN-to-BSN track was created to serve registered nurses who wish to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, as well as to enhance their practice and grow as health care professionals. It’s offered on a part-time basis so nurses may continue to work full-time as they pursue the degree.
In the fall of 2012, a pre-licensure track began to serve those in the area who aren’t nurses who wish to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. It includes two years of pre-requisite, and liberal arts and science courses before the upper division nursing major is expected to begin next fall.
Union’s athletic training program prepares students to take the Board of Certification exam, and/or to pursue graduate studies. Students get hands-on experience through access to multiple team physicians, clinical settings, the college’s 23 athletic programs and opportunities to intern with professional sports teams and in other settings.
The grant to Union was part of a $200 million appropriation made by Congress to the Economic Development Administration for areas that received a major disaster designation in fiscal year 2011 with long-term economic recovery and infrastructure support. A statement from the Economic Development Administration’s Washington office Thursday said the eight-county region served by Union College — Knox, Whitley, Laurel, Bell, Harlan, Clay, Jackson and Rockcastle counties, along with other Kentucky regions — suffered natural disasters in 2011, which included tornadoes and flooding. The EDA noted the weather disasters “primarily impacted small businesses, many of which were unable to reopen or forced to relocate.”