Jim and Margaret Shuler of Blacksburg believe in the power and benefit of education; that’s why they donated a considerable gift to the NRCC Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative.
The Virginia Foundation for Community College Education matched their gift, providing $50,000 to support full-time career coaches in the New River Valley.
Career coaches are community college employees who are based in local high schools to help students define their career aspirations and to recognize community college and other postsecondary programs, including apprenticeships and workforce training, that can help them achieve their educational and financial goals.
The purpose of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) career coach program is to empower students to make informed decisions about their career and educational plans and to prepare them for success in postsecondary education and training.
NRCC’s career coaches are located in the following high schools: Auburn, Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Eastern Montgomery, Floyd County, Pulaski County and Radford.
Dr. Shuler, a retired veterinarian and former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, grew up in Elkton, Va., the youngest of six children. His mother was a teacher, and after learning about the VCCS career coach program, he and his wife thought that it was “a good fit” to support with a monetary donation.
He says the individual attention given by the career coaches “can prepare students who may otherwise drop out or not advance, to move on and receive training to enter the local workforce.” He adds that the program is “such an asset to the community college and the entire state.”
Also, the fact that Gov. Gerald Baliles is involved in the program was appealing to the Shulers. “It’s good to see him as an advocate for this initiative,” added Dr. Shuler. Baliles served as chair of the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education which is leading the Virginia Rural Horseshoe Initiative.
In Virginia’s “rural horseshoe,” high school too often marks the end of the educational line, resulting in reduced opportunities that ripple across generations. Drawing a line from Virginia’s Eastern shore westward across Southside to Southwest Virginia, and then up the Shenandoah Valley, you trace an arc that represents 75 percent of the Commonwealth’s geography, where a half million people have less than a high school education according to a VCCS publication.
By placing full-time career coaches in high schools across rural Virginia; by providing incentives to continue education and workforce preparation for GED recipients; and by sustaining and expanding the availability of coaches, scholarships and mentoring opportunities for foster youth through the Great Expectations program, the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative strives to:
- Cut in half the number of residents living within the rural horseshoe who lack a high school diploma or its equivalent, from nearly 20 percent to 10 percent.
- Double the percentage of rural residents who earn an associate degree or other college certification from 26 percent to 52 percent.
- Double the number of participants in the Great Expectations program for foster youth, as well as the number of foster youth who graduate with an associate degree or a workforce training credential.
More information about supporting the initiative in the New River Valley is available from Angie Covey, executive director of the NRCC Educational Foundation, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 674-3655.
— Submitted by Kelly Kaiser