'It actually has the feel of a real college'
The staff at the One Room University in Marlinton held an open house last week in hopes of attracting potential students and to showcase its facility.
ORU coordinator Elaine Diller said they try to host open houses to let people know what classes are available, and to help students with financial-aid. She said the financial-aid application process gets more complicated every year, but ORU is ready to help.
“We're here to answer questions,” Diller said. “Usually people want to know what courses are offered and when to get financial aid — information gathering. Right now is the time. You can come in and get the process started. If you don't meet the deadlines, it decreases your chances of getting certain grants.”
Diller has a background in education. She was an administrator in early child education here in West Virginia, and also in Maine. She said although she isn't a financial aid counselor, she can point students in the right direction.
Diller said it's not too terribly hard for students to be accepted into New River Community and Technical College, and getting started is easy — just a two-page application. She said for anyone that has never taken a college class before, ORU might be a good stepping-stone.
“If you're only going to take one course, or up to three courses really — paid without financial aid — you can do that without having to gather transcripts and things like that. So if you just want to try a college course, you can do it that way.”
Many classes offered at ORU are administered via Interactive Video Networking, but Diller said there are other students in the county that strictly take online classes, and they're always welcome to stop by.
“They can use our Wi-fi, they can use our computers — we're up-to-date with all the software they might need. They can do all their printing or faxing.”
According to Diller, things are going really well at the ORU. It's growing every semester, and the staff is staying busy.
“We used to be able to get out,” joked Diller. “One staff person could stay here, the other one could go out and about in the community and talk to people. Now we need to be here. I think students are discovering they can come here and socialize. They have peers that they can meet with and compare notes with or do study groups with. It actually has the feel of a real college.”
As a testament to the two-year pilot-program's success, New River is investing even more resources into the project.
“New River has invested in increasing their bandwidth,” Diller said. “Because of the speed, the routers at all of the campuses will have to be replaced. In the next couple of weeks, New River will have purchased the new routers and they'll be coming here to install one. That will increase our speed and enable three or four computers for different classes to be going at once, and there won't be as much interference.”
Diller said there are also plans to expand the capabilities of the satellite site in Marlinton. New River wants to expand and upgrade the ORU to a “send-and-receive site” in the future.
“Right now it's just a receive site,” explained Diller. “We can receive broadcasts from other campuses but we cannot send. I think they're aiming for the fall of 2013 or spring of 2014. A lot of times students say they want a teacher in a classroom, but they can't drive to Lewisburg, so they have to make do. This way, we'll hopefully increase our student population because we will have a live instructor in the classroom.”
“That'd be great,” she said. “We'd be broadcasting to Beckley, Lewisburg, Summersville, and Ghent — those campuses. We might just have three students here in town, but the other campuses might have one or two or three — and that would make a full classroom.”
Diller said right now they need teachers — especially developmental math.
“We're always looking for instructors,” she said. “I know there's qualified people here — we just have to bring them in. They do have to qualify as far as their education. New River is kind of specific about their teachers and the education requirements.”
Diller said she was pleased with attendance for the open house.
“We had several people in,” she said. “One was a schoolteacher. She was in on behalf of a student she used to have in her class. She thought that he might like this and take advantage of this — and that's great. We had several other prospective students, a couple transfer students. They were interested. So we had a really good turnout. We're really pleased.”
Diller said there are some important deadlines coming up, especially for students applying for financial assistance.
“The deadline for the West Virginia Higher Education Grant — you need to get your FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] in before April 14. Also New River has a foundation. There are scholarships through New River. For those you have to apply by March 29. Then also June 14 is the cut-off for FAFSA for the fall semester,” Diller said.
According to her, students at the ORU are responding well to the program.
“It's really fulfilling in that way. I guess I'm just an educator at heart,” Diller said.
Anyone interested in taking classes, or teaching at the ORU, can stop by during normal business hours, or call 304-799-4950. The One Room University is located above City National Bank in Marlinton. The program is a joint-venture between the Pocahontas County Commission, New River Community and Technical College and City National Bank.