UVA, UVA-Wise Work Together to Advance Prosperity in Southwest Virginia

Aerial view of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

From telehealth networks to start-up incubators, state parks to downtown revitalization, the University of Virginia and UVA’s College at Wise are finding new ways to engage in university-based economic development in Southwest Virginia.

Since 2007, UVA and UVA-Wise have collaborated on a university-community-industry partnership known as the Appalachian Prosperity Project, or APP. Its mission is to advance health, education and economic prosperity in southwest Virginia. Focused efforts in telemedicine, public health, research, education and entrepreneurship apply the strengths and capabilities of UVA and UVA-Wise to the challenges of the region for maximum impact.

“APP’s progress is a testament to the power of intentional partnerships and a reminder that by working together we can effect meaningful change for citizens across Virginia,” said Pace Lochte, assistant vice president for economic development at UVA.

Shannon Blevins, associate vice chancellor for economic development and engagement at UVA-Wise, agreed. “Everything we do involves partnerships, and the partnership we have with our colleagues at UVA through the Appalachian Prosperity Project has been one of the most impactful,” she said. “Leveraging the expertise and resources of each of our institutions enables us to have a greater impact on some very complex challenges facing Southwest Virginia and rural Virginia overall.”

Although APP was launched relatively recently, UVA faculty and staff have been involved in the region for many years – in some cases, decades – working closely with colleagues at UVA-Wise:

  • Dr. Karen Rheuban, a professor of pediatrics, senior associate dean at the School of Medicine and co-founder and director of the Karen S. RheubanCenter for Telehealth, has devoted a significant part of her career to building out a telehealth network that has yielded better health outcomes for patients, health professionals, hospital systems and communities in the region.
  • Over the past 20 years, the Center for Telehealth facilitated almost 100,000 patient encounters and 4,500 e-consults. More recently, the center is partnering with the Healthy Appalachia Institute at UVA-Wise to launch the Appalachian Telemental Health Network. The project will establish a behavioral/mental health network to the underserved Appalachian counties of Virginia via telehealth, connecting providers and patients to resources and behavioral/mental health services.
  • Frank Dukes and other faculty from the School of Architecture’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation helped convene and facilitate civic conversations about promoting place-based economic development in far Southwest Virginia, leveraging natural assets through the Clinch River Valley Initiative. This community-led effort has produced results including the establishment of a linear state park along the Clinch River, downtown revitalization initiatives and tourism marketing campaigns.
  • Sean Carr, executive director of the Batten Institute at the Darden School of Business, and Blevins are continuing to find ways to leverage UVA’s Top 10-ranked entrepreneurship programs to bring best practices to Southwest Virginia. UVA-Wise students participate in many of these programs at UVA, including competing for the Entrepreneurship Cup. These efforts helped build the foundation for the creation of “The Nest” at UVA-Wise, an incubator where students can bring their start-up ideas.
  • UVA biology professor Michael Timko partnered with UVA-Wise assistant professor of biology Ryan Huish on a project aimed at creating varieties of industrial hemp suited for traditional tobacco-growing regions. The biologists planted test plots of industrial hemp on 10 acres of reclaimed surface-mined land in Wise. They are analyzing the impact of changing state regulations on the rapidly evolving industrial hemp industry.
  • Joy Pugh, director of the Virginia College Advising Corps, and the UVA-Wise Office of Admissions continue to help first-generation college students matriculate to postsecondary education institutions, offering advising and mentorship to high school seniors in the region. Recent UVA-Wise graduates have served as college advisers in several high schools in Wise and Norton, increasing access to higher education.

As part of its mission, APP will hold a symposium at UVA Monday and Tuesday. “Profiles in Partnership” will showcase the work that is addressing today’s most pressing challenges through partnering to build capacity, build healthy communities and spur sustainable economic development, entrepreneurship and innovation.

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UVA College at Wise Chancellor Donna Price Henry will deliver the keynote address, where she will share more about the challenges and opportunities in Southwest Virginia. Faculty, students and staff from both schools will have an opportunity to discuss their interests together and gain an understanding of assets and resources available at both institutions.

“We are excited to provide a platform for UVA-Wise faculty to share some of their work with faculty here in Charlottesville,” Lochte said. “For example, the UVA-Wise Department of Natural Sciences is putting together an inventory of unique, natural assets that exist in Southwest Virginia, such as the Clinch River, the most bio-diverse of all rivers in the Northern Hemisphere. There is potential for meaningful collaborations yet to be discovered that could lead to research grant opportunities and new student experiences.”

To support further partnerships, APP is offering two $5,000 fellowships so that faculty from UVA and UVA-Wise can explore opportunities to address challenges facing Southwest Virginia.

“UVA faculty members are interested in issues facing rural areas, and particularly those in the commonwealth, but haven’t determined how to make connections in Southwest Virginia,” Lochte said. “This program, led by the provost offices at each school, is designed to drive better faculty engagement between UVA and UVA-Wise.”

The APP Symposium is supported by the University’s Bicentennial with funding from the UVA Alumni Board of Trustees. The Bicentennial’s sponsorship included support for travel expenses for partners attending from UVA-Wise.

The symposium will feature lightning-round presentations and interactive discussions during separate sessions focused on capacity-building, health and economic development.

The first session will explore the Virginia College Advising Corps, the UVA-Wise Emerging Leaders Program, the Friends of Appalachia student CIO and activities at the UVA Weldon Cooper Center. The second session will explore a broad array of health challenges and solutions, including treatment and continuum care around four priority areas in the region: black lung, opioid addiction, cancer and HIV/hepatitis C. The third session will explore the UVA-Wise natural asset inventory and Oxbow Field Station, the Clinch River Valley Initiative, industrial hemp, entrepreneurship and innovation opportunities through the state’s GO Virginia initiative and the UVA-Wise innovation ecosystem.

This event is free and open to the UVA and UVA-Wise communities. Registration is required.

“Attendees will learn about Appalachia as a precious resource and will spend the day exploring the realm of the possible,” Lochte said. “We hope to improve the quality of academic and social exchange between UVA, UVA-Wise and rural communities. APP is a great example of bridge-building for greater community, discovery and service, and aligns with President Ryan’s encouragement ‘to be both great and good.’”

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Matt Kelly

Office of University Communications