On Jan. 25, Governor Mark Gordon announced a proposal to modernize and refocus Wyoming’s higher education system. The initiative, called Wyoming Innovation Network (WIN), calls for collaboration between the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges.
The WIN initiative will have the state’s higher education institutions collaborate and develop strategic programming that focuses on Wyoming’s specific need. It emphasizes workforce development in high potential areas, supporting entrepreneurs, research and market analysis, and developing outside revenue sources for students.
“Wyoming institutions of higher education are excited to take our relationships to a higher level with a focus on helping propel the state’s economy,” said Ed Seidel, president of UW. He added that the initiative has identified opportunities for collaboration across the state.
Gordon explained that this collaborative approach will allow the state to better focus its resources to assist both existing industries, and areas identified as having significant growth potential.
“Our goal is a unified effort that will help catalyze economic development, strengthen our workforce, support Wyoming businesses and enhance our ability to attract businesses from out of the state,” said Gordon.
WIN is intended to support the state’s overall economic vision set forth by the Wyoming Business Council. This economic vision includes adding value to core industries, activating new economic sectors, and leveraging partnerships and expertise across the state.
“I’m really excited about the trajectory of UW under Ed Seidel. His vision includes how to help the entire state,” said Josh Dorrell, CEO of the Wyoming Business Council.
IN CARBON COUNTY
“I am a big fan of Ed Seidel. He has a sterling reputation as an incredible innovator. I also think Governor Gordon is doing a good job trying to develop new ideas for education,” said Dave Throgmorton, Ph.D., director of the Carbon County Higher Education Center.
He added that this initiative was an opportunity to find efficiencies across higher education by promoting coordination across the state’s community colleges and the university. With such a small population and with the recent budget cuts, it would be difficult for Wyoming to maintain eight comprehensive community colleges.
“The Carbon County Higher Education Center has been in a slightly better financial position than community colleges across the state because our funding comes from local property taxes and not state funds,” said Throgmorton. He explained that Western Wyoming Community College (WWCC), with whom their organization partners, has had to cut millions from its budget. Those cuts have included faculty members and entire programs.
“This is an opportunity to rethink things. Hopefully something creative will come out of it. There has been a lack of innovation when it comes to education, and I think that’s because the Wyoming legislature is afraid of educated people and severely lacking in imagination,” Throgmorton said. He added that he was a product of the Wyoming public school system, having gone all the way through grade school to earning his Bachelors degree from UW. He also has experience as an educator in the state. In his opinion, education has been on the periphery of conversations about the present and future of the state.
Throgmorton hopes the influences of Seidel and the support of the governor might propel Wyoming forward.
He anticipates that the WIN initiative will open up partnerships in Carbon County that have not yet existed. He cited UW’s construction trades program as having tremendous potential to provide education to people in the construction business who want to learn management and pricing skills. These skills are valuable to workers who may want to move up or start their own business. He also noted that the Carbon County Higher Education Center has a state-of-the-art health sciences lab, and hopes it might be used to expand the healthcare industry.
Dorrell expressed his own hopes for how WIN might affect Carbon County.
“Carbon County has its roots in two of our core industries—energy and tourism. The Sinclair refinery is one of the biggest employers in the county, and there is a ton of tourism and outdoor recreation,” Dorrell explained. He added that this initiative, with its emphasis on partnership and innovation, will unlock the opportunities within Carbon County by taking ideas and turning them into tangible skills and jobs.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
While Dorrell emphasized staying true to the core industries in the state—hospitality, energy, and agriculture—he also hopes that the initiative will look towards the future. He noted that technology and computer sciences were growing exponentially, and he hopes that WIN will help grow that sector in the state. He also believes that there is a bright future for health sciences.
Dorrell hopes that the initiative will create what he calls a “culture of commercialization.” In other words, that it will lead to the creation of good jobs in Wyoming.
“When we talk to folks across the state, we have people putting on their work boots to figure out how we’re going to make our economic situation better. Things are challenging, but I see a lot of optimism and a lot of hard work,” Dorrell said.