ATHENS, Ohio – Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) visited Ohio University’s GRID Lab on Thursday, April 20, after a reauthorization field hearing in Marietta for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a federal-state regional commission that serves portions of a 13-state region. His stop in Athens allowed him to see one of the success stories that resulted from his 2002 push for reauthorization to include an emphasis on technology, as ARC funding granted at that time was responsible for the GRID Lab’s beginning.
During Thursday’s program, GRID Lab Director Karen Riggs thanked Sen. Voinovich for his support.
“We consider ourselves a centerpiece of developing industry for this area,” Riggs said of the GRID Lab, which opened fully at 5 on Court in Athens Feb. 8. “One of the most important mandates of the GRID Lab is K-through-12 outreach. We want students to learn through serious games and then become technologically literate to study the field in college and act as a pipeline of experts in the industry upon graduation.”
Sen. Voinovich recognizes the facility as an important tool in educating Appalachian youth.
“We're building a whole new industry in Athens area,” Sen. Voinovich said of the Lab’s impact. “There are a lot of youngsters who go off to the West Coast, but now they'll be able to stay here because we're creating new business here.”
Riggs pointed out the GRID Lab also provides area students with a safe, clean alternative to alcohol and drug consumption, acts as a testing site for serious game developers, and serves the Ohio University community as a research and development laboratory with the newest equipment and technology available.
Ohio University Associate Provost for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Bill Sams offered an overview of the application side of the GRID Lab, citing partnerships with serious games developers Tabula Digita and Minerva as proof the GRID Lab has already contributed to knowledge in the field and is well on its way to producing tomorrow’s industry leaders out of local students.
“The GRID Lab really is an anchor for development in this area,” Sams said. “Between Ohio University and Shawnee State University, we’ll soon be producing a human capital flow capable of generating 10 new companies a year. We want to be proactive rather than reactive.”
GRID Lab Assistant Director John Bowditch and Director of Technology Ben Schneider allowed the Senator and others on hand to view a trailer and demonstration of Dimension, a Tabula Digita game on which the GRID Lab has collaborated. The game, slated for release in early 2007, teaches algebra to students as young as seventh grade.
“Dimension takes the approach that learning by having fun will stick longer than learning because students feel like they have to,” Schneider said.
The pair reported that pilot testing results indicate students test an average of seven points higher after playing the game for 90 minutes.
Sen. Voinovich jotted notes and interjected questions throughout the presentation before taking a short tour of the GRID Lab facility.
According to Athens Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Jennifer Simon, who coordinated the site visit with the Senator’s office, the facility might not have become a reality without ARC funding.
“This visit was critical, as it has allowed the senator to see how this investment has increased economic opportunity and promoted educational development in the region,” she said. “The funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission was a vital part of the GRID Lab’s creation, and we are indebted to Sen. Voinovich for his commitment to the cause.”
As Riggs states, the GRID Lab has already started to change the business climate and affect the lives of young people in the region.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re excited about serious games,” Riggs said. “We’re seeing serious results.”
Sen. Voinovich is currently spearheading a campaign to urge members of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee to include $64.8 million in ARC funding in the Fiscal Year 2007 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.
Others in attendance at the GRID Lab Thursday included Anne Pope, federal co-chair of the ARC; T.J. Justice, director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia and State Representative Jimmy Stewart.
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