One Room University Concept Brings College To Pocahontas Students

Marlinton, WV – Special Note from the AMR News Director-The following is a news story about the One Room University project. In the spirit of full disclosure, listeners should know that I originally scheduled an interview with Pocahontas County Commission President Martin Saffer and Pocahontas County Coordinator Jay Miller to talk about the project. However, when I arrived at Mr. Saffer’s office, I was told that Pocahontas County Commissioner David Fleming would also be part of the interview. This interview was not publicized, nor was I aware ahead of time that two Commissioners would be present for the interview.

Pocahontas County Commission President Martin Saffer says the roots of the One Room University project have been waiting to sprout for several years.

“We needed to get some college education in the county, on the ground” says Saffer. “I had noticed that New River [Community and Technical College] was making inroads into the county. I think Mr. [Roger] Trusler and the high school have wanted to do this and I think it’s time has come and that’s how it got started.

Perhaps no one understands the challenges of the ORU project better than Pocahontas County Coordinator Jay Miller. For several months now, he has been developing the plans that will change the project from conceptual vision to working reality, whereby students using Interactive Video Networking can have a college classroom experience without having to leave the county.

Miller started with several surveys, to gauge the interest of both county high school students and adults. He says City National Bank in Marlinton has tentatively offered the use of their second floor; negotiations for a lease are continuing. Miller says the IVN technology offers unique advantages.

“By focusing on IVN as the way of delivering classes instead of traditional classrooms, you could house an awful lot; up to a couple of hundred active students could be accommodated in one room” says Miller. “Build a facility, build the concept of a campus facility around the idea of individual students taking individual classes; that s really the essence of the concept.”

Commissioner David Fleming says New River Community and Technical College, a partner on the ORU project, already has an IVN center at their Lewisburg campus. But he says there are other technological considers to think about to make the project workable in Pocahontas.

“Certainly we can have that kind of technology here” says Fleming. “I think it’s a fair question as to what kind of internet connectivity we’re going to need, but I think we have that here and can make that happen.”

Fleming says the ORU could also be part of a larger benefit to the county.

“It goes hand in hand also with the efforts we’ve made at increasing broadband infrastructure here in the county for the hope and the want for technology driven industry and jobs” he says. “We’ve said over and over this is a perfect place for that – well why educate the workforce here as well. The ORU has that potential to do that.”

Miller says the cost of the classes would most likely be comparable to the cost of IVN classes already offered at New River. He says as partners, the Commission and New River would be responsible for different elements of the ORU.

“The county is responsible for providing a facility for the test to take place ” says Miller. “New River is responsible for providing course content. So all the financial assistance, all of the opportunity to use Promise scholarships and Pell Grants – all of that will be part of the support from we get from the financial aid office at Lewisburg.”

Miller describes the physical set up for the individual students for the initial test of the project.

“Thinking about what would be carrels – IVN student carrels that would each have it’s own desktop computer and the ability with a microphone and a camera on it to be able to do the two way audio and video” says Miller. “The cost of those computers is part of the facility.”

Miller says they’ve talked to Mission West Virginia about getting refurbished computers at very low cost and Frontier Communications has agreed to provide the DSL capability for the initial test. He says that they are talking to all parties involved to keep costs at a minimum to ensure they can have a successful demonstration of the potential of the ORU. Miller says New River may have to commit further funding to the project if the initial test is successful.

“New River is going to be out some money on this because there is the issue of the on-site administrator, which we need to figure out how that’s going to get paid for” he says. “There is going to need to be someone on-site to do the financial aide and some of the other liaison with the college.”

He knows it’s a bit of an uphill battle.

“Just proving that it is possible and showing people that this is something that can be done here, we’re going to have to overcome an awful lot of skepticism and inertia that something like this is even possible, practical or you can’t pull it off between now and August” says Miller. “But I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think it were possible.”

A public meeting about the project is scheduled for December 6th at 5pm at City National Bank in Marlinton. Anyone interested in the ORU is encouraged to attend.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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