Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced the five finalist teams in the Rural Tech Project. The $600,000 challenge aims to advance technology education, support rural educators, and prepare students for the careers of today and tomorrow. Each team will receive a $100,000 cash prize and progress to the second phase of the challenge.

Employment growth in technology careers is outpacing other occupations, and across industries, many of the fastest-growing career opportunities will require advanced technology skills. The Rural Tech Project is designed to empower educators with resources for creating technology education programs customized for their students and local needs. 

Meet the finalist teams

From June to October, the Department invited rural high schools and local educational agencies to propose technology education programs that use competency-based distance learning. The Rural Tech Project received 63 proposals from teams across 34 states. Entrants proposed programs focusing on a range of technology skills β€” from computer science and cybersecurity to robotics and aviation.

β€œThe finalist teams want to equip their students with in-demand skills for careers across industries. We look forward to supporting the teams as they use flexible learning models that benefit teachers and students.”

β€” Scott Stump, Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education

Congratulations to the finalist teams: 

  • iLead Academy (Carrollton, Kentucky) is offering students across five high schools the opportunity to take virtual, dual-credit courses leading to the completion of computer science degrees. Students can earn multiple work certifications to demonstrate mastery in digital literacy, computational thinking, programming languages, networking, and cybersecurity.
  • Louisa County Public Schools (Mineral, Virginia) is providing a cybersecurity program that will prepare students to enter the workforce with industry credentials or attend a postsecondary program. Students can choose a two-year or four-year pace for the program and will select final-semester coursework that targets specific industry pathways.
  • Premont Independent School District (Premont, Texas) is collaborating with Brooks County and Freer Independent School Districts as part of the Rural Schools Innovation Zone. The districts are offering high school students the option to join one of five academies leading to dual credits, associate degrees, and industry-based certifications. The academies will focus on preparing students for technology-skilled occupations in healthcare, education, engineering, construction, or the military.
  • Ravenna High School (Ravenna, Michigan) is creating an agricultural technology program that will teach students transferable skills for robotics, healthcare, and computer informatics. The program will focus on automated beekeeping, and students will work with robots and active beehives to remotely access data and manage hive health. 
  • Woodlake High School (Woodlake, California) is introducing an online aviation program that will prepare students for regional careers or post-secondary degrees. Students will learn drone operations, geometry, and aerodynamic principles, and apply that knowledge through in-person drone flights and simulator work.

The finalist teams were recommended by a judging panel, including experts from Austin Peay State University, Center for Rural Strategies, Ford Next Generation Learning, The Franklin Institute, IBM, Pine Springs Preparatory Academy, and University of Arkansas.

What to expect in Phase 2

From January to July 2021, teams will develop detailed program plans and build partnerships before programs launch. The Rural Tech Project will provide on-the-ground assistance, expert mentorship, and access to virtual resources as they plan, run, and refine their programs for two academic years. Each finalist team will be supported by a Community Engagement Manager, who will assist with on-the-ground setup, implementation, and evaluation of the program. 

During summer 2023, teams will document their outcomes and learnings in a final submission; a judging panel will then recommend one grand-prize winner to receive an additional $100,000. The Rural Tech Project will compile insights from all finalist teams and share lessons learned as a resource for other communities.

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