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The College of Eastern Idaho hosted an open house at the Teton Valley branch in the Teton Business and Education Center on Oct. 14 and 15 to talk about the outreach survey opportunity.

The College of Eastern Idaho is asking Teton County residents to help with an exciting new outreach project.

Funded by the national Bridges Rural Design Grant, CEI is hoping the survey results will shed light on strategies to enhance rural outreach.

The grant administrators were very selective when choosing awardees, with only five community colleges in the country selected.

CEI was the only college in the west to be selected, with one each in New York and Maine, and two schools in Ohio receiving the grant.

Mary Stephenson, director of CEI’s Early College Program, spoke to the opportunity they now have.

“The purpose of the grant is to see how community colleges can serve as economic drivers in the communities that they serve,” said Stephenson. “We’re working with CEI’s education design lab to go through a very intentional design-related process to find out how we can serve our rural communities better.”

Teton Valley’s selection as the ideal area to conduct the program was a natural decision for CEI, which already has an extension office here.

“Teton Valley just kind of came to the forefront as the place that made sense for us to start,” said Stephenson. “We’ve done a little bit of this project in Idaho falls but we wanted a more rural part of the area that we serve.”

The research will enable CEI to take the lessons they learn and apply them in other rural areas of the state in their service area.

“We will be able to take it to Fremont County, we will be able to take it to Salmon,” said Stephenson.

CEI does acknowledge that these areas have differences in how their communities operate, and the college is flexible to accommodate those variations.

“We know that we can’t just do the same thing everywhere we go,” said Stephenson. “But we can follow the same intentional process everywhere we go and make those same connections and partnerships so that whatever we’re doing makes sense for the community members and learners.”

This mentality is even built into the grant’s purpose, with the other schools participating working on different methods and objectives than CEI’s. The results from all participating schools will then be shared with other community colleges around the country.

“Every community college that is participating is coming up with a different project or a different way that they’re going about it,” said Stephenson. “We’re hoping that that work can be scaled nationally and help other community colleges across the nation reach out to the rural communities that they serve.”

There will be an intensive evaluation phase, with CEI’s stakeholders and officials to assess how to conduct rural outreach and programming.

“We really want to make sure that not only do we have those traditional academic paths, but also to have short-term training that we can do through our workforce training and development office,” said Stephenson.

The survey is designed to see what type of curriculum and programming work best for individuals that live in rural areas.

“The education design lab helped us get that survey together,” said Stephenson. “We’ll come up with a plan that really creates a partnership between the community college and the Teton Valley community so that the programming we offer is long-term and sustainable.”

“Is there some customer service or other training that we can do in a 3-day kind of intensive workshop?” she continued. “We want to find out what those needs are, what those employers are looking for, and also what the community members might be willing to help us with.”

The survey represents a chance for CEI to uphold its goal of creating a chance for older individuals and non-typical students to gain skills and knowledge.

“CEI really focuses on a lot of lifelong learning,” said Stephenson. “We really want the community to feel like CEI is their community college and that our services are here to serve the learners of this community.”

For those wishing to give some much-needed feedback, the survey can be found by following the link forms.gle/uY81eY6KdtnXMmyJ7.