College launches Institute for Rural Vitality


By Patsy Nicosia

Armed with a $749,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, SUNY Cobleskill is launching its Institute for Rural Vitality as a way to make its resources-from students to grant writing expertise to legal help-available to the community.
The Institute's five centers will focus on economic development; most won't have a brick and mortar home, but will be part of a website that will help funnel "needs" to the place or person most likely to be able to offer help, either on-campus and off.
"It's a way to bring all of us-the community and the college-together for the future," SUNY Cobleskill President Marion Terenzio said Thursday.
"We're all players at this table and it's high time SUNY Cobleskill steps up. I don't think anything like this exists anywhere else. For us, it's a way to put our ideal of applied learning into practice. For the community, it's a way to access everything we do here."
The Institute's five centers are:
--The Center for Farm and Food Entrepreneurship, which will work with the Center for Agricultural Development & Entrepreneurship (CADE) to help farm and food businesses with technical, marketing, product and business development.
The college's in-development dairy processing plant, its Schoharie Fresh online farmers' market, and its planned retail store would be "housed" here, as would student-led help with grants, and non-credit "Cradle to Career" classes.
--The Center for Community Advancement, which will bring together local schools and college professionals and serve as a hub for community service
These efforts already include things like College in the High School, which lets high school students take college courses for credit.
--The Center for Business Development, which will work to encourage entrepreneurship, job creation, and a stronger local economy through collaboration between SUNY Cobleskill faculty, staff, and the local business community and house START-UP NY.
--The Center for Art and Culture, which will work with museums and others to help grow the economy through arts and culture.
--The Center for Rural Legal and Policy Services, a partnership with Albany Law School offering legal help, advocacy and programming for rural businesses and communities.
Dr. Terenzio said all but the Center for Art and Culture is already funded and she has a source in mind to fund that.
Jason Evans, associate professor and chair of Agriculture and Food Management at SUNY Cobleskill, will be the institute's director.
One example of something college students are already working on that fits with the Institute's goals, Dr. Ternezio said, is research on hop DNA that would allow the locally-historic crop to be grown here again for the craft beer industry.
Micro-credentials--very specific training for workers in specific industries-is an example of something the Institute could offer local businesses.
"We see this as a place where any business could come and where, though I hate the word, we could "leverage" the resources we already have to help them," Dr. Terenzio said.
Though the Institute has been under development since Dr. Terenzio took over as president in 2015, she said it's the USDA funding, announced in December, that convinced her the college is on the right page at the right time.
"Only two colleges got the top funding of $749,000-big Texas Tech and us, tiny SUNY Cobleskill," she said. "That's why I know this is realistic and that it will work: Because they funded us. We successfully connected the dots."
The Institute's website is under development.
Until it's up and running, contact Dr. Terenzio's office at 255-5111 for more information.