Upper Arlington News

Innovation Generation

Initiative aims to close education, workforce gaps


Fueled by $14.4 million in Straight A Fund grants from the state, 15 central Ohio school districts launched the Innovation Generation initiative April 22 with the aim of expanding post-secondary options for students and closing workforce talent gaps in the region.

Innovation Generation is part of the national Pathways to Prosperity Network and seeks to establish career pathways in advanced manufacturing/robotics, business logistics, health care and information technology.

The multidistrict collaboration is supported by Columbus State Community College, Educational Services Center of Central Ohio, Mount Carmel Health System, Battelle for Kids, Columbus 2020 and other community and business partners throughout Ohio. The Eastland-Fairfield, Tolles and Ohio Hi-Point career centers also are part of the collaboration.

"We have the beginning of an important cooperative that includes higher education, employers, career tech and public K-12," said Reynoldsburg Superintendent Steve Dackin. "That has to bode really well for the creation and sustaining of jobs in central Ohio, which is aligned with the Central Ohio Compact."

The Central Ohio Compact is a regional strategy for college completion and career success. Its ultimate goal is to help 60 percent of working-age adults attain a college degree or career certificate by 2025.

Districts participating in the consortium for the Innovation Generation initiative are Canal Winchester, Columbus, Gahanna-Jefferson, Grandview Heights, Hilliard, Licking Heights, Marysville, New Albany-Plain Local, Olentangy, Pickerington, Reynoldsburg, South-Western, Upper Arlington, Westerville and Whitehall.

Reynoldsburg is the lead district for the initiative and acts as fiscal officer for the consortium. As such, the Reynoldsburg Board of Education approved Straight A Fund contracts for 12 of the districts at its April 15 meeting:

• Canal Winchester: $297,135

• Columbus City Schools: $753,500

• Gahanna-Jefferson: $911,059

• Grandview Heights: $584,375

• Hilliard: $902,475

• Licking Heights: $496,200

• Marysville: $942,753

• New Albany: $872,228

• Pickerington: $867,783

• South-Western: $150,000

• Upper Arlington: $300,421

• Westerville: $1,171,706

• Reynoldsburg received $1,080,686.

Dackin said the grant dollars are governed by the consortium participants themselves, after a governing committee meets and approves all the submitted projects.

The Columbus, Gahanna-Jefferson, Grandview Heights, Marysville, New Albany, Pickerington, Upper Arlington and Westerville districts have the creation of a mobile Fab Lab on their list of projects.

Reynoldsburg built its "fabrication laboratory" or Fab Lab, last year at eSTEM Academy, with the help of $70,000 from Battelle. Started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Fab Labs were a way to make advanced manufacturing equipment available for fledgling inventors and project-based STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) projects.

The lab consists of 3-D printers, laser cutters and other manufacturing machines.

Dackin said building a Fab Lab meets the "advanced manufacturing" aspect of the Straight A grant. Even though Reynoldsburg now has an operating Fab Lab, the district will build a mobile Fab Lab with part of its grant money, to make the technology more available to younger students.

"We have a very challenging timeline, since we were given only a six-month planning and implementation process," he said. "We are grateful to have the state dollars, but the project plans are expected to be implemented by June 30 of this year."

Another chunk of the consortium's grant money -- $1 million -- went to Columbus State to digitize 33 existing Columbus State courses and create seven more courses for dual enrollment and college credit.

"I think this consortium is the first step in our alignment to the Central Ohio Compact and will end up being a model for urban centers around the country," Dackin said. "Rarely do you see this kind of partnership between all these educational entities."