The University of Virginia’s College at Wise will receive $3.5 million from the University of Virginia to increase enrollment in targeted programs at the College and to create a robust culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in the region.

The Wise Innovation Ecosystem received the funding from the University of Virginia’s Strategic Investment Fund.

“The Strategic Investment Fund is an extraordinary opportunity for the University of Virginia community to dream big and exercise creative license to design and implement high-impact, high-value initiatives,” UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry said. “The University of Virginia’s College at Wise is grateful for this award. This is truly a transformative opportunity which will strengthen innovation and entrepreneurship in our curriculum while reinforcing student outcomes and economic development.”

Approval was announced Friday by the Board of Visitors.

“One goal of the Wise Innovation Ecosystem is to diversify the region’s economy by boosting enrollment in the software engineering, computer science and management of information systems programs,” said Shannon Blevins, assistant vice chancellor for economic development and engagement.  “Another goal is to give students the skills needed to be relevant and competitive in the emerging economy by creating a center for innovation for students to collaborate and develop entrepreneurial skills through hands-on learning experiences.”

The funding will be received over a five-year period. The majority of the funds will support a Center for Innovation, including the hiring of a professor of entrepreneurship, a professor of cyber-MIS, a center manager and operation costs, including start-up scholarships, student internships, an entrepreneurship boot camp, a cyber-security symposium, an entrepreneurial certificate program and the student innovation center.

“The College at Wise already has top-notch academic programs, including ABET accredited Computer Science and Software Engineering,” said Jacob Somervell, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. “These degrees are underutilized resources for the Commonwealth. The programs need more students and this SIF grant will support bringing more students to these degree programs.”

Somervell explained that efforts to increase awareness of the programs and to attract more students would strengthen the mission of the College and provide much needed technology talent to the various technology companies across the Commonwealth and beyond. Increasing enrollment and the number of graduates can have the ripple effect of attracting more technology companies to the region; potentially helping to shift the local economy from the struggling coal industry towards a more sustainable technology sector, he explained.

“I thank the Board of Visitors and the review panel for their foresight and clarity of vision in recognizing the importance these degrees can have for the region and the Commonwealth,” he said. “My hope is that the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science can graduate significantly more majors with technology degrees and help Southwest Virginia become a competitive destination for myriad technology companies.”

The funds would also support a retention program for students in various programs, including a mandatory summer program for entering students, highly monitored “turbo” classes in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, early intervention for at-risk students and shared courses with the University of Virginia.

“This represents a level of outreach that our department has never engaged in before,” said Frank Frey, chair of the UVa-Wise Business Department. “It is a great opportunity for us to provide more scholarship opportunities and additional educational opportunities for our students. It will also help us grow as a school and help attract more students.”