Northern Vermont U. to use federal money to boost remote services statewide

Northern Vermont University plans to use almost half a million federal dollars to set up videoconference services at 30 additional sites around Vermont. The school already has 30 sites in place.

The videoconferencing will make telehealth and remote learning easier for rural students to access.

The college, with campuses in Lyndon and Johnson, received $465,000 this year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, building on the $389,000 the college received in 2018 from the USDA for the same purpose. The money will be used to buy equipment, such as monitors and cameras, for the sites.

Carter said NVU Online, the college’s online education offering, began more than 40 years ago as an effort by Johnson State College to reach students who lacked the means to come to campus. Johnson State merged with Lyndon State College in 2018 to create the two-campus university.

“This grant specifically assists organizations who are really looking to build upon those outreach opportunities,” she said.

Two of the 30 new sites will be hubs in larger spaces, such as classrooms or conference rooms, where organizations or individuals can produce or present video material to remote audiences.

The hub sites will host larger groups and feature large monitors, cameras, microphones and a computer for a presenter, Carter said.

The 28 remaining sites will accomodate smaller audiences, but will be equipped with the same technology, Carter said. The smaller locations will be for viewing online classes.

With the new grant money, the university aims to provide more access to telehealth. Many of the sites will be hosted by or will partner with social services. 

The Howard Center in Burlington, the largest social services organization in the state, will operate seven of the new sites.

“The funding will allow Howard Center to better serve clients through improved direct-care telehealth services in rural communities,” said Adam Brooks, a spokesperson for the center. “This will have a positive impact for clients receiving telehealth services or staff members involved in trainings throughout the agency.”

The grant award is timely. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the need for remote ways of learning, working and accessing health care.

“We were trying to address challenges Vermonters had regarding weather and distance and things like that,” Carter said.

“And now, in addition to the physical access and the barriers we were trying to overcome there, we’re able to overcome barriers to health and safety because of Covid,” she said.

Carte expects the rollout to take a year to 18 months.

The site partners include: Alyssum, Another Way, Global Campuses, Green Mountain Support Services, the Howard Center, Lamoille Restorative Center, North Central Vermont Recovery Center, Northeast Kingdom Human Services, Rutland Regional Medical Center, United Counseling and VT Psychiatric Survivors.

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