New is the byword for education and workforce in Northern Kentucky

By Debra Gibson Isaacs

Health Innovation Center at Northern Kentucky University
The new Health Innovation Center at Northern Kentucky University, which includes the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Simulation Center, is one of the largest and most comprehensive health professions buildings in the country.

Choosing which highlight of Northern Kentucky’s education sector to explain first is a conundrum.

Should we discuss the collaborative Grow NKY initiative or perhaps the new Health Innovation Center (HIC) and the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Simulation Center at Northern Kentucky University? It could be the new university president and new programs at Thomas More College. Then there’s IGNITE, the latest industry/education alliance in Northern Kentucky.

In Northern Kentucky, there is much to discuss when it comes to education and workforce development.

Collaboration is foundation of Grow NKY

Grow NKY is a good example. Some 60 partners joined forces with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce on this workforce/education effort.

Grow NKY is built on five focus areas: kindergarten readiness; college and career readiness; adult career readiness and lifelong learning; talent retention and attraction; and employer policy and practice. 

“The first three deal with the talent supply,” said Leisa Mulcahy, managing director/vice president of Workforce for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, “and the fourth deals with talent and attracting people to the region. The final is a variety of resources for area employers.”

Grow NKY has also identified six primary industries it hopes to grow and attract: information technology; financial services; construction; advanced manufacturing; health sciences; and advanced logistics.

“Grow NKY is connecting business with students,” Mulcahy said. “It starts in kindergarten with some interesting projects and continues through middle school job awareness and high school shadowing into creating apprenticeships.

“We are working toward the right things with the right people at the table. Industry informs every ounce of what we do, and it is really comprehensive.”

Learning with real-world simulation at NKU

Nearby at Northern Kentucky University, the new HIC, which includes the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Simulation Center – is one of the largest and most comprehensive health professions buildings in the country.

“The Health Innovation Center transforms how we educate and train the next generation of health care professionals with an interdisciplinary approach to addressing our population health challenges,” said NKU President Ashish Vaidya. “I see it as the nexus of talent, innovation and community development.” 

The $105 million project is home to NKU’s College of Health Professions and the Institute for Health Innovation. The Kentucky General Assembly allocated $97 million toward construction, and St. Elizabeth Healthcare invested another
$8 million to add and equip the Simulation Center.

The St. Elizabeth Healthcare Simulation Center features seven simulation rooms, including an operating room and intensive care unit. Students can simulate real-life health care situations like interviewing a patient, reading an X-ray, or administering an injection in a safe environment. Advanced patient mannequins can present a wide range of symptoms for diagnosis.

“St. Elizabeth Healthcare is proud to partner with NKU on the Health Innovation Center’s Simulation Lab,” said Garren Colvin, St. Elizabeth Healthcare president and CEO. “One of the most exciting aspects of the Health Innovation Center is the new, cross-functional educational experience for students that will undoubtedly produce outstanding healthcare leaders and providers of the future.”

New president, new facilities for Thomas More

At Thomas More College, where President Joseph L. Chillo was installed September 25, 2019, two new facilities were opened: the Center for Health Sciences and the Performing Arts Laboratory.

The Center for Health Sciences, supported by a $1 million gift from St. Elizabeth Healthcare, is the new home of the college’s traditional four-year nursing and accelerated RN to BSN programs, as well as the exercise science and athletic training programs. Launched in 2014, the athletic training program includes a bachelor’s degree and the only master’s degree of its kind in the area.

The Performing Arts Laboratory provides additional space for the Marching Saints, Villa Players, dance team, choir and other Thomas More performing arts programs.

“I am so excited for this building,” said Randy Webb, Thomas More director of bands. “This facility, which will be utilized by more than 200 students this year, gives us a dedicated space – something we haven’t had prior to the Performing Arts Lab.”

The new STEM Outreach Center, an $875,000 expansion to the Biology Field Station, also opened in 2019. It brings more options that create more results – more students will have access to Thomas More’s STEM outreach programs, more professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers that promote inquiry-based teaching, and more scientific literacy for visitors.

“The opening of the new K-12 STEM Outreach Center demonstrates our commitment to student learning at all levels,” said Chris Lorentz, Ph.D., director of the Biology Field Station. “The building is the quintessential space to implement innovative, hands-on lessons in the STEM fields. By providing a dedicated space for grade schools and high schools, we are enhancing our existing programs, expanding our offerings; and through the IT capabilities, extending our reach to schools. The STEM outreach programs have received national recognition and are currently filled to capacity.”

“At Thomas More, we’re taking a holistic approach to education, preparing our students for not only their first job, but their next five jobs,” said President Chillo. “It’s our goal to position our students so they are empowered to develop ideas and concepts of tomorrow.”

Preparing high schoolers for workforce gaps

IGNITE Institute is the latest industry/education alliance in Northern Kentucky. Industry leaders developed a cross-disciplinary curriculum for high school students to address specific gaps in the regional workforce and give students the chance to interact with local business leaders.

Brought to life in a facility Toyota donated for public use, IGNITE focuses on project-based learning in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Admission is not based on GPA but rather on a student’s desire to learn specific high-demand skills. This program has 900 students.

“IGNITE is designed to give kids work-based learning experiences,” said Bill Hogan, director of innovation for Boone County Schools and director of strategic partnerships for IGNITE. “Before they graduate from high school, they will have a pretty good idea of what the job entails and if that job is their passion.

“Maybe they find out a certain job is not their passion, that they don’t want to do this the rest of their life. That information is just as valuable. They don’t get trapped in a job they don’t like.”