University of Northern Colorado Business School to Take on Workforce Development

A three-year, $400,000 grant will help the University of Colorado invest in underrepresented communities in the state's Front Range.
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Published on October 6, 2023
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  • The University of Northern Colorado received a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant.
  • That grant will go toward boosting innovation and workforce development, particularly in historically underserved communities in the state's Front Range region.
  • The grant is the largest ever received by the university's Monfort College of Business, which will lead the project.
  • Fifty universities across the country received the grants, which aim to boost innovation.

A federal grant will mean investment in workforce development for underrepresented communities in Colorado's Front Range region.

The University of Northern Colorado (UNC) received a $400,000 Enabling Partnerships to Increase Innovation Capacity (EPIIC) grant from the National Science Foundation to bolster local businesses with technical advice and workforce development with the goal of increasing social mobility.

The three-year EPIIC grants went to 50 institutions across the country with the aim of "encouraging minority-serving institutions, two-year institutions, primarily undergraduate institutions, and other emerging research institutions to participate in regional innovation ecosystems," according to the National Science Foundation.

The University of Northern Colorado's Monfort College of Business will take point on the project to help local businesses and workers alike, according to a press release from the school. The grant is the largest ever received by the business school. And it's the first time the school has received funding from the National Science Foundation.

"This project has significant potential to benefit the residents in the Front Range region, many who come from underrepresented communities and who work in low-paying agricultural jobs," Monfort College of Business Management Department Chair Isaac Wanasika said in the release.

That effort will include:

  • Increasing workforce and entrepreneurship training for students and local workers alike
  • Partnering with local stakeholders and investors to grow key fields in the region like agricultural technology and biotech
  • Providing funding and technical advice to local startups and other businesses

Wanasika underscored the impact the project will have on historically underserved communities in the Front Range.

"We can help promote regional economic development and the advancement of historically marginalized communities by providing workforce development opportunities in new advanced agriculture technology sectors, developing programs that promote entrepreneurship and technology commercialization and by providing workforce training and promoting entrepreneurship among the largely Hispanic communities who work in the regional agricultural industries," Wanasika said.

The University of Northern Colorado is one of more than 400 schools identified as regional public universities by the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges.

Those schools are critical access points to higher education in their communities and key drivers of economic and community development. But they often receive less funding per full-time equivalent enrollment than other types of institutions.

"Smaller universities like UNC that are predominantly undergraduate or in semi-rural environments, haven't really benefited from federal funds for economic development," Wanasika said in the release. "So, this is a very intentional effort to give us the capacity to create impact in the community we live in."

The university was paired with Kettering University in Flint, Michigan; the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas; and Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, as part of the "Enabling Meaningful External Research Growth in Emergent Technologies" cohort.

Wanasika said that grouping will help the schools pool resources to best serve each of their local communities.