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OU President Nellis and Executive Dean of Regional Higher Education Willan
August 14, 2018 : University considering needs of community

Originally posted at


ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Hybrid degrees, internships and mentorships, pathways to employment and making high-speed internet access available to all topped the list of concerns discussed by business leaders when Ohio University President Duane Nellis visited the local region Monday.


Nellis, who spends most of his time at the main campus in Athens, said he has been traveling the state, meeting with those who drive the economies where OU’s branch campuses are located. He previously visited Zanesville, Chillicothe, Lancaster and Ironton on similar missions to “understand all the dimensions of Southeast Ohio,” where OU has a strong footprint.


Nellis described the leaders he met with Monday at Ohio University Eastern as a “diverse group” that included representatives of the banking and health care industries, as well as manufacturing interests and others. He said their chief concerns were helping students prepare for careers of the future and persuading local residents that they can remain in the area rather than leaving in search of work.


Hybrid degrees usually feature a combination of online instruction and in-person classes, and Nellis said these courses of study can help prepare students for careers they can start now as well as for jobs they may do in the future. Not only do they appeal to many of today’s college students, but they also can be helpful for nontraditional or older students who may not be able to travel to classes on campus as often as more traditional students do, according to Bill Willan, executive dean for Regional Higher Education. He said it is important for the university and its branch campuses to offer online courses while maintaining that “human touch” by also providing conveniently timed and located in-person classes, such as evening sessions, in order to serve help nontraditional students.


Nellis also said internships and mentorships tend to help students understand that there are opportunities for employment available to them close to home. Not only do the students gain valuable insights from the professionals they work with under such arrangements, but they also form connections that can lead to future job offers.


When it comes to broadband access, Nellis said there are plenty of “dark spots” in southeastern Ohio. He said that often when he is driving between campuses, he encounters areas where he has no cellphone reception, let alone internet access. He compared the need for broadband expansion in the region to the rural electrification of the area that occurred in the 1930s, saying today’s efforts are no less important to society.


Nellis expressed concern that many elementary and high school students in the region may have internet access while in class but have no ability to connect to those online resources once they arrive at home. The same is true of some college students’ ability to access online courses offered by Ohio University. And, he said, some area entrepreneurs face challenges in marketing their businesses because of limited internet access. Because of these issues, Nellis said he advocates at the state and federal levels for help in bringing broadband to more rural parts of the Buckeye State.


On another topic, Nellis said discussion Monday turned to the ongoing opioid crisis. He said OU has responded by creating the Ohio University Opioid Task Force at the Athens campus in an effort to help the many people working to solve the problem throughout the region to connect with one another.


“They are not always talking with each other,” he said of the stakeholders in the battle against opioid abuse and addiction.


Meanwhile, with an eye toward programs of study that are in demand, Nellis said officials are working to bring a four-year nursing program to OUE. He said such a degree path could lead to careers in various nursing fields, as well as in areas such as physical therapy and nutrition. And with a strong engineering program at Athens, Nellis said some of those resources might become a valuable part of the curriculum at OUE. He said such courses could help local students prepare to work at an ethane cracker plant proposed for the Dilles Bottom area or in other parts of the natural gas and oil industry.


Robert Klein, interim dean of OUE, said he was pleased to host Nellis’ visit and believes it demonstrates the university’s commitment to its outlying campuses.


“This visit signals that the broader university is ready to support the needs of our campus and community,” Klein said. “Alone, we are far less strong.”