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State funds Antioch co-ops

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Following through on its commitment to agricultural and environmental sustainability in both campus life and curriculum, Antioch College last week cemented a partnership with the state to establish several dozen cooperative job positions for students with sustainable agriculture and food processing businesses in Ohio. The college received a matching grant through Governor John Kasich’s office to support the business and academic partnership. Job placements will begin on Jan. 1.

As a private institution, the college partnered with Miami University to be eligible for the public grant, and the two schools will share a total of 52 cooperative positions for undergraduate students. Antioch, the lead recipient of the grant, and Miami received $140,600, and the matching amount will come from the co-op employers.

According to Richard Kraince, associate professor of cooperative education at Antioch, the support of Miami’s Thomas Crist, director of the Institute for the Environment & Sustainability at Miami University, was crucial to the opportunity, and the universities have worked together to forge relationships with area businesses.

“Miami University has [shown] real commitment to sustainability issues, and Tom’s institute has been developing all sorts of creative connections locally,” Kraince wrote in an email last week. “Working with them is a natural fit for us and we are excited about getting together and deepening relationships with Ohio employers.”

While the college received only half of the requested amount, according to Kraince, the bulk of the funds will be used to pay students for full-time work during their co-op terms. The OBR funds will cover a student’s salary for a 12-week term if the employer commits to paying another student out of their own budget concurrently or during a subsequent term.

“We see this as an opportunity to prove the value of co-op students, and so we are committed to figuring out how to prepare students adequately so that their contribution to an employer’s bottom line will be clear,” Kraince said.

The college will invest in the partnership as well, by hiring a part-time co-op faculty member to lead the project. The position will support the current co-op department of Kraince and cooperative education professor Susan Eklund-Leen.

Among the businesses considering the co-op partnership are Calala’s Water Haven, a fish and prawn nursery in New London; Bergefurd’s Farm Market in Wilmington; Madisono’s, a gelato producer in Cincinnati, The Ohio Grocers Association and EnviroFlight, a local feed production company. EnviroFlight owner Glen Courtright likes hiring students, especially those interested in the biological sciences or business, he said this week. He enjoys mentoring students and introducing them to the real world of work, where they can get a better idea of how the skills they learn at school might be applied. And because EnviroFlight is focused on developing sustainable feed for fish and animals, Antioch’s sustainability curriculum “could be a natural fit,” he said.

For the college, one of the goals of the partnership is to allow students to frame their education in the context of the needs of local, sustainable businesses, according to a college press release.

“We are a liberal arts college, so we’re all about the larger [perspective] and we do want students to have a lot of different educational experiences beyond the vocational track,” Kraince said. “But we do hope they will find jobs when they graduate. And just as the state would like to see a stronger economy and see colleges contribute to the effort to grow the economy, there is no reason a liberal arts college wouldn’t want to involve itself in that same effort— especially around the production of foods, which we’re already doing.”

To align part of its curriculum in that same context, the college plans to expand its global seminars, courses designed to allow students to analyze contemporary world problems through interdisciplinary study. The college has taught seminars on food, water and health, and is developing new seminars on energy, governance and education. Antioch also plans to deepen its relationship to its co-op employers by inviting them to campus for presentations and discussions directly related to those industries.

The partnership will familiarize students with the skills necessary for employment in the state’s food industry, and it could very well prepare some of them for careers in dairy product manufacturing, beverage production, confectionaries, fruit and vegetable preserving and specialty food manufacturing, seafood product preparation and other “value aggregation processes,” the release said.

To further its own role in educating about food system sustainability, the college is currently planning to expand the campus farm, adding some livestock to the vegetable and chicken-raising operation. A small part of the grant will also fund a feasibility study for the establishment of a community kitchen that could be used by both students and community members to develop food products and to process the food that’s raised locally. The college envisions the facility could become a business incubator for the region, according to Kraince.

As a pioneer of the cooperative education work-study program, the college has a long tradition of tying the liberal arts curriculum to the business needs of the time. As undergraduates, Antioch College students are required to spend four to six quarters on co-op before they graduate. The college also requires students to write and reflect on their cooperative experiences in the context of its effect on the wider world. In that way, the co-op program prepares students for concrete work in the service of ideals and values.

“The Ohio Agrarian Trade Partnership will help ensure that debates over food and agriculture policy will be informed by citizens with real-world experience and close associations with the producers of agrarian products throughout the state,” according to an Antioch College press release.

The co-op grants are part of the governor’s “workforce development strategies” established to align higher education with the skills that Ohio’s businesses need. According to a release from the University System of Ohio, the total $11 million in funds come from casino license fees and will benefit up to 3,500 Ohio colleges and universities, whose students are slated to be paired with companies such as Honda, Proctor & Gamble, Owens Corning and First Energy.


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