Voinovich School celebrates 10 years of public service & teaching

Click here for the original story in the Athens News
By Fred Kight





People have to look up to see Ohio University’s Voinovich School because of its location on a ridge overlooking Athens. They also should look up to it figuratively for work that it has done to benefit the region.

For a decade the School has not only educated students as future leaders; it has also provided a variety of services to southeast Ohio and the state. Known formally as the George Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, the institution is now celebrating its 10th anniversary.

“The School has been responsible for more than $2 billion in economic activity since 2012 and the creation or retention of more than 30,000 jobs,” according to a news release from the School. “The School’s impact has also extended to environmental and energy sustainability projects, as well as research projects designed to find innovative solutions to challenges facing society, and particularly challenges facing the Appalachian region.”

 Today southeast Ohio and the broader region has no greater challenge than opioid abuse. The Voinovich School has joined the battle in 57 Ohio counties through work with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

“A team comprised of faculty, professionals and students assists groups to build the capacity to implement evidence-based opioid abuse prevention programs,” said Voinovich Dean Mark Weinberg. “Most recently, the Voinovich School was awarded $530,000 to develop effective strategies for fighting Ohio’s opioid epidemic.”

Headquartered on OU’s Ridges campus, the School is named after the late Ohio Gov. and U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, a 1958 graduate of OU. His 44 years of public service also included time as Cleveland’s mayor.

The Voinovich School was established on April 20, 2007, when the Ohio University Board of Trustees voted to elevate its status from a center to a school. Then Sen. Voinovich offered these words of inspiration: “I believe the government’s highest calling is to empower people and galvanize their energy and resources to help solve our problems, meet our challenges, and seize our opportunities.”

But to really trace the School’s origin, one would have to go back to 1981 when the Trustees board created the original organization, the Institute for Local Government Administration and Rural Development (ILGARD). Weinberg, the Institute’s founder and director, remains in charge as dean of the School.

 “The School is the premier engagement college at OU, and we work closely with Business, Engineering, OU Heritage College of Medicine, Health Sciences, Communications, Arts & Sciences and virtually every college on campus, and our students are drawn from across campus,” Weinberg said.

The Voinovich School became the first multidisciplinary school at Ohio University and continues to focus on applied research, leadership development, and applications learning across colleges. This means that students work with real clients and organizations to create solutions to regional and state problems, while at the same time faculty apply their knowledge to those problems.

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said the Voinovich School has assisted the city “in many ways,” including “the Northwest Bike Path Spur Wetland design, (and) the West Union stream restoration design.”

“On a different note, the Voinovich School has been an instrumental partner with Mayors’ Partnership for Progress,” Patterson added. “The Mayors’ Partnership for Progress is a consortium of mayors and city managers from 15 counties… and over 60 communities in southern and southeastern Ohio…” The School provides the non-profit organization with technical assistance, he said.

Examples of this assistance can be seen at OU’s Kennedy Museum of Art, which is hosting an exhibition of a photojournalism project entitled “Sighting Progress.” The show tells the story of the Voinovich School’s impact on the region and individual lives.

 According to the news release, “The exhibition documents the vital collaborative work that the School conducts in conjunction with various stakeholders and partners, including the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio EPA, JobsOhio, the Department of Energy, Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services, Battelle for Kids, the Department of Education, the Small Business Development Center and many more.” The exhibit will remain on display through April 1.

The School has 313 students and 84 faculty and staff.

Undergraduates can sign up for the Voinovich Undergraduate Research Scholars program or they can earn an Environmental Studies certificate. Graduate students may pursue the Master of Public Administration or the Master of Science in Environmental Studies programs.

“Since 2016, our MPA program has grown by more than 60 percent as we’ve expanded our reach nationally, through the addition of an online MPA program and by offering our Executive MPA program at the university’s new Dublin Center,” said Program Director Jason Jolley. “We expect this growth to continue, as more public and non-profit sector executives take advantage of the opportunity to enhance their leadership skills, with the convenience of fitting the course offerings around their busy schedules.”

The Voinovich School’s 10th anniversary celebration coincides with another 10 year anniversary – of TechGROWTH Ohio. TechGROWTH, a program built as a collaboration with the school and private investors, was created to accelerate the growth of start-up technology companies and boost regional economic development.

According to the news release, “TechGROWTH Ohio has assisted nearly 2,000 promising entrepreneurs in 20 rural counties in southeast Ohio” with technical assistance, human resources and capital. TechGROWTH client companies have generated more than $400 million in economic activity.”

The Voinovich School’s 10th anniversary celebration continues through May. Upcoming events include the seventh annual Appalachian Ohio State of the Region Conference on May 22 and a “Sighting Progress” gallery talk at the Kennedy Museum of Art on March 19.