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The Daily Tar Heel

Grad students aid in N.C.’s recovery

Economic revitalization project grows

A UNC graduate program to help economically distressed areas is expanding to better serve the state during these tough economic times.

Graduate students in the Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps are placed with rural community governments during the summer to help revitalize the communities’ struggling economies.

The program is a collaboration among the Office of Economic and Business Development, the School of Government and the North Carolina Rural Center.

Started in 2009, the program was originally created to help economically depressed communities apply for federal stimulus grants. Graduate students spent 10 weeks with local governments across the state assisting in the application process. The program was so successful that a committee was formed to investigate ways to expand it beyond the summer in the future.

Students will now spend 12 hours a week working with communities remotely from campus during the school year in addition to their summer work.

The expanded program will allow interns to see the projects through to the end as many grant application processes extended beyond the summer in 2009, said Josh Levy, assistant director in the Office of Economic and Business Development.

“Last year it was about getting boots on the ground to get stimulus money,” Levy said.

“We are working to refine the model and think about ways to deploy our students more efficiently to help these communities.”

This year’s program will be funded by the Office of Economic and Business Development with a matching grant from the N.C. Rural Center. Interns will have their tuitions paid and receive a stipend.

Students and local governments must apply for the program and go through an interview process.

While the program is open to all graduate students, Levy said they look for students who have experience with local governments and applying for grants. Of the 10 local governments and 25 students who applied this year, six were selected to work together.

This year’s interns are working primarily with regional governments, many of which contain counties classified as “tier 1” for economic well-being.

The tier 1 classification contains the bottom 40 most distressed counties in the state.

Fredrick Davis is a city and regional planing graduate student working with the N.C. Northeast Commission. The commission includes 16 counties, 12 of which are tier 1. This summer he will be working to secure funding for a public library in Gates County, among other projects.

Davis said he hopes to become a county manager in the future and believes this will give him an opportunity to acquire real world experience.

“I am able to come in and work on a project they have been working on since 1991. This community has great assets but just doesn’t have the staff to go after the money they need,” he said.

Matt Dudek, a public administration graduate student, will be working in Wilmington to create a community center and to secure grants for investment in local businesses.

“Often people talk about what is not in a community. The challenge is to recognize what is already there and build off of that,” Dudek said.

Kendra Jensen is a public administration graduate student working with the Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments to secure funding for a new water treatment facility.

“The people have been very welcoming and warm. They are highly skilled and ready to get to work,” she said.

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