Spotlight on Limestone & Morgan: Higher Education

Two institutions of higher learning provide certificate and degree options for area residents

Founders Hall at Athens State University.

Athens State University

Athens State celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2022 with a week-long series of events that coincided with homecoming and summer commencement. The upper-division university serves junior-level, senior-level and graduate students, a majority of whom are enrolled in online and hybrid online/in-person courses. More than 80% of its courses are available in online or hybrid formats. Athens State had 2,895 students enrolled in Fall 2022.

In January, Dr. Catherine Wehlburg was named interim president of the university following the resignation of Dr. Philip Way. Wehlburg previously served as provost and vice president of academic affairs.

Athens State prides itself on supporting non-traditional college students and recently announced a partnership with Calhoun Community College to establish a fast-track bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree that allows students to earn their associate and BSNs simultaneously. The program will launch this fall.

Athens State has added several new degree programs in the last two years. The College of Arts and Sciences added a homeland and corporate security bachelor’s degree in the fall of 2021, a public health bachelor’s degree in the fall of 2022 and three new master’s degrees in computer science, cybersecurity and interdisciplinary studies in the fall of 2022.

The College of Business added a bachelor’s degree in aerospace systems management and a master’s in accountancy, both of which started last fall. The college also introduced a master’s in acquisition and contract management this spring.

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In March, the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences received a $2 million UTeach grant from the Alabama Legislature. The grant will support the university’s new Athens Teach Program, launching this summer, recruit and provide scholarships to STEM students and hire faculty and staff to support the program. Athens State is one of six state universities to receive the grant.

The Spring 2022 review by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation listed Athens State as one of 35 newly accredited educator preparation programs.

In January 2022, Athens State celebrated the opening of the Northrop Grumman STEM Learning Lab. Northrop Grumman donated $25,000 to support the College of Education’s new lab, enabling the purchase of smart boards, robotics, coding tools and STEM materials and providing hands-on training to an estimated 1,000 teacher candidates and in-service teachers over five years.

Last year, the university’s Center for Lifelong Learning created the LaunchBox Entrepreneurial Center, which serves as a collaborative workspace for aspiring entrepreneurs, students, investors, small businesses and government and offers business development assistance, professional networking opportunities and community educational programs. It is the first of its kind in Limestone County.

The center also launched a STEAM Roller initiative, supported by a grant from Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, to expand STEM education opportunities to underserved youth in Limestone County.

Calhoun Community College.

Calhoun Community College

Calhoun Community College is the largest two-year college in the Alabama Community College System and the sixth largest higher education institution in the state, serving approximately 10,000 students at its main Decatur campus, its Huntsville campus in Cummings Research Park and the Alabama Center for the Arts in Decatur. The school offers more than 100 associate degree options and career/certificate programs.

In May, Calhoun and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) signed an advanced manufacturing memorandum of understanding that will create a seamless transferable career path for students participating in the community college’s additive manufacturing design degree program to transfer to UAH.

In April, the Appalachian Regional Commission awarded $108,000 to support Calhoun’s STEAM: Merging Art with Technology and Engineering project. An additional $144,356 provided by local sources will bring the total project funding to $252,356. The STEAM project helps support the additive manufacturing, visual communications and computer information systems programs at the college and develop design innovations and video game design programs at the Alabama Center for the Arts.

Inspired by a statewide initiative led by the Alabama Board of Nursing and the Alabama Community College System, last August Calhoun’s nursing and career services departments partnered with the Athens-Limestone Hospital, Decatur Morgan Hospital and the South Hampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center to create the college’s first nursing apprenticeship program. Students in the program will get hands-on training while being paid to work at one of the school’s partner facilities.

Last spring, the Calhoun College Foundation announced it had been awarded a $500,000 renovation grant from the Gene Haas Foundation. The funds were awarded in exchange for naming rights to the college’s Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Lab, now the Gene Haas Center for Advanced Manufacturing, located in the Advanced Technology Center on the Decatur campus. The grant also will help fund any future expansion plans and create more training opportunities for future manufacturing technology students.

In September 2021, Calhoun opened a 4,000-square-foot dental hygiene lab, making it the second community college in the state to have a dental hygiene program.

This article appears in the August 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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