Veronica Post, VESTA state coordinator at Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus, and Ken Warden, Ed.D., chief business and community outreach officer at Arkansas Tech-Ozark, spoke to Charleston Chamber members about the campus and its new Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) program during the noon Charleston Chamber of Commerce meeting last week.
The Chamber meets the first Wednesday of each month in the Charleston First Baptist Church Family Life Center.
The campus began offering a technical certificate in both viticulture (grape growing) and enology (winemaking) in 2009. Last year, the campus became a member of the VESTA National Center of Excellence, a partnership between two-year colleges and universities across the country, state agriculture agencies, vineyards and wineries.
VESTA serves as a pathway for individuals interested in certificated training in viticulture and enology, Post said. Students interested in earning an Associate of Applied Science degree may utilize the high quality courses of VESTA in conjunction with general education courses taken at a local college, she added.
Additionally, VESTA provides opportunities for students to participate in hands-on field training at local vineyards and wineries, which gives students laboratory experience within their region, Post said.
Students completing viticulture and enology technical certificates will be prepared for entry to mid-level positions in the grape-growing and winemaking industries, Post said.
"The Altus vineyards and wineries, near the Ozark Campus, provide employment and internship opportunities. Students will also have access to entrepreneurial support, along with professional growth opportunities for those currently employed."
The VESTA program offers introductory and advanced viticulture and enology courses via distance education and online delivery methods, enabling learning to occur anytime, anywhere, Post said.
"Students earning an Associate of Applied Science degree may utilize VESTA courses along with general education courses taken at Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus or another partner institution."
VESTA partnering states are Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
Whether students decide to study in the classroom or online - or both – they have access to all of the courses needed to earn a certificate or degree in viticulture or enology, Post said.
"If you are interested in grape-growing and winemaking as a hobby or career, we have the program of study that is ready to help you advance."
Warden talked about the 10-year anniversary of the merger with Arkansas Tech University. On July 1, 2003, Arkansas Valley Technical Institute (AVTI) merged with Arkansas Tech University to form Arkansas Tech-Ozark. A formal celebration of the anniversary is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 10, at Arkansas Tech-Ozark.
Before the merger, AVTI enrolled around 300 students and offered 12 technical certificates. Arkansas Tech-Ozark now offers 11 associate degrees and 15 technical certificates. For the fall 2012 semester, it saw a record enrollment of 2,033 students.
"We hope to break that record this fall," Warden said.
"We are the premier option for career technical education in the region and offer some options that you cannot find at most two-year school."
Such programs include viticulture, enology, cardiovascular technology, occupational therapy assistant, physical therapist assistant, health information technology and human resources, he said.
A large part of the campus’ academic advancement has been the addition of general education courses, which he said are a "tremendous asset." Also, because of the merger all accredited coursework is transferable.
"This improved our capacity to serve our students by increasing access to advanced educational opportunity in the region."
The Allied Health professions are booming, Warden said, as he spoke about the new cardiovascular technology that will be offered this fall at Arkansas Tech-Ozark’s Chaffee Crossing location.
Arkansas Tech-Ozark provides students in the region with several Allied Health options, including registered nursing, licensed practical nursing, paramedic/emergency medical services, physical therapy assistant and health information technology.
"I have personally been involved with five higher education institutions in the state, either as a student or an employee," Warden said. "What sets us apart is our dedication to student success. We are about meeting people where they are and taking them further."
For more information about Arkansas Tech-Ozark, visit www.atu.edu/ozark. For more information about VESTA, visit www.vesta-usa.org.