COOKEVILLE – The Highlands Economic Partnership (HEP) has named Putnam County resident Cindy Taylor director of the Upper Cumberland Tennessee Reconnect Community (UC TRC), one of three Tennessee communities established through a statewide initiative to create a network of advisors for adult learners interested in completing a postsecondary education credential.
HEP, on behalf of the UC, received one of three initial $200,000 Reconnect Community grants awarded by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) in fall 2015, with five additional communities to receive grants in the coming year. By employing a director and two advisers, the UC TRC will develop virtual and physical community centers throughout the region that will function as connecting-places for adult learners 25-64 years old to receive advising, support, a personalized path to and through college, and a space to connect local employers, local higher education institutions and prospective adult learners.
“Hiring a director was a significant step for the UC TRC to become operational and ready to assist adult learners in March,” Lillian Hartgrove, Highlands Workforce Development and Education vice president, said. “Taylor brings a wealth of knowledge and credibility to the UC TRC from her 30-year career in education as a teacher and as an administrator in the Upper Cumberland.”
Taylor worked with UC principals the past five years to share cutting-edge best practices to improve the educational experience of students in the region while she was under contract for the State Department of Education. She has also presented STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education at local, state and national levels. Taylor, as UC TRC director, is charged with leading outreach efforts that will connect adults to resources that will help them return to a post-secondary institution while promoting community awareness and engagement.
The UC TRC is planning multiple launch events for the region, inviting adult learners to attend and connect with UC TRC advisors and representatives from all UC higher-education institutions where they will find resources to assist them in the re-enrollment process.
“Preparation has begun for the Upper Cumberland Reconnect Community kickoff events scheduled for mid-March to reach as many adults as possible during the launch phase,” said Cindy Taylor, UCTRC director.
The first kick off is from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, at Warren County High School. The second event will be in Putnam County from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at Cookeville Higher Education Campus, and the third event in Cumberland County is at the Art Circle Library from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, March 22.
A media campaign launched in January is part of the state of Tennessee’s outreach efforts targeting Tennesseans who attended college within the past nine years and have completed 50 percent of the credit hours needed to complete their degree or certification. UC residents will be receiving push cards from local higher-education institutions encouraging re-enrollment.
Tennessee Reconnect is part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Drive to 55” plan to ensure 55 percent of Tennesseans are equipped with a college degree or certificate by 2025, in order to meet job market demands. THEC and established Reconnect Communities are following a model developed by The Graduate! Network. Coaches provided by the Graduate! Network will work with TRC leaders to operationalize their strategic plan and implement a regional infrastructure for serving adult learners, while connecting TRCs in a network to share best practices, connect with peers and gain knowledge.
The lead organization and fiscal agent administering the UC TRC grant is the Highlands Economic Partnership (HEP), founded as the Highlands Initiative by the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce as a regional economic development engine for Jackson, Overton, Putnam and White counties.
“Workforce development is ‘Job One.’ The establishment of TN Reconnect across the Upper Cumberland is our next step in building a powerful, 21st century workforce,” said George Halford, president and CEO of the Cookeville chamber. “Pathways to Prosperity will be the link between the TN Reconnect post-secondary education program and our initiatives in pre-K-12. This will create a well-equipped workforce on a core level in our region. With over 2,500 manufacturing and jobs announced in the last 18 months, it is imperative that we do all we can to provide a prime workforce that compliments the high-caliber companies who are investing in our area. The TN Reconnect program is exciting because we are seeing the vision of our economic future coming to fruition before our very eyes.”
Recipients of Tennessee Reconnect Community grants were chosen through a competitive application process. The grant program is administered by THEC and subgrants are funded by the state of Tennessee, with technical assistance funded by Lumina Foundation.