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WVU public health, business schools collaborate to build a digitally skilled workforce in West Virginia

West Virginia University is expanding its efforts to propel West Virginia’s workforce into today’s digital economy.  

WVU recently was awarded a Digital Economy Initiative grant through Cisco’s donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

“As technology transforms the way we live and work, Cisco believes educational institutions can be a powerful force for change and local economic development. Public universities such as WVU not only have the capacity to meet industry demand for a digitally skilled workforce in the West Virginia area but also play a leading role in shaping entirely new ideas and industries to fuel the local economy and create the jobs of the future,” explained Tae Yoo, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs/Corporate Social Responsibility at Cisco.

Through this grant funding, WVU will focus on developing a skilled workforce in West Virginia prepared for emerging opportunities in health information technology and data analytics. School of Public Health and College of Business and Economics faculty will work together to identify skills gaps, project trends in the region’s health data industry, and develop curricular offerings that will prepare West Virginia citizens and, ultimately, help create job demand.

Lindsay Allen of the Department of Health Policy, Management, and Leadership at the School of Public Health, will serve as principal investigator on the project. She says the first step in reskilling the workforce is identifying where the gaps are.

“Our WVU team will be conducting an extensive assessment of the skills needed to build and maintain digital data, and identifying trends for future workforce needs,” Allen said. “We’ll take a deep dive into what that skill set should look like today – and in the future – to see where the gaps are in West Virginia.”

Based on that assessment, the collaborative WVU team will begin to build out a variety of curricula to benefit a broad audience of healthcare and data management professionals.

“The School of Public Health will be offering a curriculum in health analytics, while the College of Business and Economics will focus on data management,” Allen said. “The goal is to educate as many West Virginians as we can so that we can use our own home-grown talent to create – and fulfill – digital economic opportunities in the Mountain State.”

Students in the courses will utilize existing health datasets to conduct research and data analysis, gaining hands-on experience with a direct benefit to state health programs.

“Historically, West Virginia has had a wealth of health data collected and maintained by a variety of programs but has had limited capacity to actually analyze those data,” said Dr. Jeffrey Coben, dean of the WVU School of Public Health and Associate Vice President for Health Affairs at WVU. “Our new offerings will focus on training professionals how to leverage that data to inform public health programs and research – both at the local and state level. The team also will be working with state and local health departments to identify their data needs and develop skilled analysts to help meet those needs. These efforts can help improve the health of West Virginians by identifying what’s working and what’s not working through detailed analysis and program evaluation.”   

Graham Peace, Associate Professor in the Department of Management Information Systems and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Undergraduate Programs at the College of Business and Economics, will serve as co-investigator on the project.

“This is an important initiative for both WVU and the state,” Peace said, “and we’re very thankful to Cisco for providing the funding that will allow us to move forward. Having the ability to more thoroughly analyze health data will allow healthcare professionals to better address the issues negatively impacting West Virginia. This project will also provide the training necessary for West Virginia residents to obtain jobs in the information technology field. Currently, many of our graduates in management information systems and business data analytics have to leave the state to find desirable jobs.”

William Ramsey, WVU’s Associate Vice President for Coordination and Logistics and Chief Collaboration Officer, says the project is an excellent example of the strength behind collaboration at WVU.

“By utilizing the expertise from Health Sciences and Business, we can help the Mountain State reclaim jobs being outsourced to other regions and empower our own citizens with the right skills and tools,” Ramsey said. “WVU has the capacity to ensure that the existing workforce is up to the challenge and that future generations are ready to lead tomorrow’s health IT digital economy.”

In addition to Allen and Peace, Associate Professor Robert Duval of the School of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy, Management and Leadership, will lead qualitative research during the assessment phase and assist in curriculum development for the project.

John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the College of Business and Economics, and Research Assistant Professor Adam Baus of the School of Public Health, also will serve as co-investigators on the project.

“This is an important opportunity for the College of Business and Economics, the School of Public Health and West Virginia University as a whole,” saidJavier Reyes, B&E Milan Puskar Dean. “Our state is at a crossroads, a critical point where it’s so important for all of us to work together for a better economic climate. We can leverage the strengths of WVU as a land-grant, top research university, and that is a tremendous asset to the state. This grant will help identify key job opportunities in the healthcare industry while allowing us to create a climate for much-needed digital jobs right here in West Virginia.”

The gift was made as part of “A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University.”

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