By BCN Staff Writer Mecca Hinnant – June 12, 2021 — The U.S Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced on May 24 that the department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding Philander Smith College with a $2.5 million grant to develop the HBCU Center of Excellence in Digital Education and Rural Workforce Development.
U.S. Rep. French Hill, vice chairman of the bipartisan congressional HBCU Caucus represents three of Arkansas’s four HBCUs in Congress. Rep. Hill urged Gov. Asa Hutchinson to match federal funds and efforts aimed at sustaining and advancing HBCUs at a state and local level in a letter on Feb. 28.
“Federal investments alone are not enough to sustain HBCUs for the next few decades,” said Hill in a statement. “We must have state and local investments not only for financial stability, but also for the ‘look’ of support from people who live, work and play in the same cities as the HBCUs that serve them.”
Added Philander Smith College President Dr. Roderick L. Smothers Sr.: “Philander Smith College is delighted that the funds granted by the U.S. Department of Commerce, through its Economic Development Administration, will allow us to establish the Center of Excellence in Digital Education and Rural Workforce Development to bolster our students’ education in preparation for their entrance into today’s competitive work economy.”
EDA leaders, community leaders and guests joined Smothers on May 8 to honor Gov. Hutchinson and the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus at a fundraising celebration hosted by Rush and Linda Harding. The fundraiser yielded more than $350,000 for Philander Smith College.
“We are delighted to recognize and honor Gov. Hutchinson and members of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus who have proven themselves to be true friends of the HBCUs in Arkansas, particularly Philander Smith College. Their commitment to the future of this great state is demonstrated by their focus on improving the lives of Arkansans by investing in higher education,” said Smothers.
The EDA grant is to be matched with $638,420 in local investment and is expected to create 65 jobs and generate $400,000 in private investment. The university’s Director of Public Relations and Marketing Olivia Goodheart said the matching funds would come from Title III and the university will begin speaking to contractors about the project as early as July.
“The awarded funds will allow us to renovate and repurpose the M.L. Harris Fine Arts Center to house the Center of Excellence in Digital Education and Rural Workforce Development. We’ll have that space for conferences, large skills training, and things of that nature. In addition to that, the grant will fund a Community Learning Lab for our non-traditional adult students,” she said.
At this time, the university is still in the beginning stages of the project and the proposed timeline for the project is 18 months from award delivery, approximately November 2022. “The focus is the grant has just been awarded, so now we can begin our process,” said Goodheart.
Charles King, the college’s vice president for institutional advancement, is the grant administrator and will oversee the project for a projected 18 months.
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