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APLU & USU Team Up with Universities to Improve 21st Century Skills for Low-Income Students through Community-University Partnerships

December 16, 2020

Washington, DC —The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) today announced grants to the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Virginia Commonwealth University, comprising the first cohort of its Seeding Innovation to Deliver 21st Century Skills project. The grants support university partnerships with community stakeholders aimed at removing institutional barriers that prevent success for low-income students and prepare them for the 21st Century workforce. The awards, known as Collaborative Opportunity Grants, support innovative approaches that link preparation for the workforce to an institution’s community engagement. The three-year project is funded through a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

“Partnering with community organizations and employers is essential to helping build a diverse workforce prepared for the 21st Century job market,” said Shari Garmise, Senior Vice President of APLU’s Office of Urban Initiatives and Executive Director of USU. “Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham are rolling up their sleeves to collaborate with partner organizations to do exactly that. We’re excited for the impact this work will have on these communities, but also the examples of effective partnership they will set for other institutions to emulate.”

The grants – $50,000 each – will help the universities identify and advance equity-based innovations that address 21st Century Skills development to scale internally and eventually externally. To be eligible for the grants, institutions must partner with non-traditional, non-educational partners, such as employers, non-profit organizations, technology providers, licensing bodies, labor unions, or local and regional government organizations. Over the coming year, APLU and USU expect to announce other grants supporting university-community partnerships in two additional cohorts:  Prototyping 21st Century curriculum, and Charting 21st Century Pathways. Collectively, the projects will help create a playbook of effective approaches to university-community partnership to promote student success and workforce preparation. The work builds on existing university-community partnerships aimed at boosting student success and the urban 21st Century workforce.

Below are overviews of the grantee institutions’ Collaborative Opportunity Grants:

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU is pioneering a new model of delivering 21st century innovation and entrepreneurship skills. The VCU Entrepreneurship Academy will consist of a blended learning environment where students and ecosystem partners learn and work together. The Academy will bring together 150 first-generation and low-income students alongside 50 community members identified by community partners, the Jackson Ward Collective and Activation Capital. This 200-person cohort will engage in four learning modules: design thinking, digital literacy, business model canvas, and the art of the pitch. Students and community members will earn digital badges in these modules resulting in an expected 2,000 hours of 21st Century skills programming delivered in concert with Richmond’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. The program Academy – coupled with a new entrepreneurship facility, the Student Storefront – will create ongoing and sustainable mentorship, networking, and employment opportunities.

University of Alabama at Birmingham
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the Birmingham Business Alliance will work to establish a student-centered Community Data Collective positioning UAB students to use data to develop solutions to challenges in the city they grew up in. The Collective will help inform UAB’s approach to using project-based learning to embed data literacy across the curriculum; build relationships between faculty and private sector data scientists; enhance students’ exposure to careers in the data industry; and meet a critical community need. In the long-term, we will increase the number of students of color pursuing quality jobs in data-related industries by engaging students in K-12 and workforce programs in the Collective alongside UAB students and faculty. Ultimately, the partnership is building a data workforce reflecting the demographics of Birmingham and meets the needs of local employers.

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