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Eastern Oklahoma State College

Eastern to Launch Agri-Business Incubator With Construction of Second Greenhouse, Partnership With Symbiotic Aquaponic
The success of Eastern Oklahoma State College's first venture into aquaponics has resulted in the construction of a second greenhouse and the upcoming launch of a new Agri-Business Incubator facility in Wilburton.

Partnering with Symbiotic Aquaponic, Eastern began offering the first aquaponics certificate classes in Oklahoma following the completion of the college’s 2,880-square-foot greenhouse in 2014. As the popularity and demand for the courses continued to grow, Dr. Stephen E. Smith, Eastern's president, and Dr. Kaben Smallwood, co-owner of Symbiotic Aquaponic, began researching the possibility of creating an agri-business incubator to provide training to producers interested in a career centered on aquaponics. 

Their joint efforts resulted in a $199,000 Rural Business Development Grant award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and construction of a new greenhouse and commercial-scale aquaponics operation that can be replicated throughout rural Oklahoma. 

"This is the first aquaponics incubator in the state of Oklahoma," Smallwood said. "It’s an exciting program that will have the capability of creating 20 new business entities over the life of the grant. Through aquaponics entrepreneurships, our goal is to create jobs, build the community and conserve precious natural resources. The incubator will help provide stability in a fledgling industry."

Smallwood said Symbiotic Aquaponic staff and Eastern’s agriculture faculty will work together to recruit and select participants for the program. Participants will utilize in-class instruction and hands-on work in the greenhouse during a 90-day course period to leave the incubator with the aquaponics and business knowledge needed to start their own aquaponic business.

The program includes 20 hours of instructional materials, including introductions to aquaponics and business, an overview of the rules and regulations associated with aquaponics, financial viability of proposed operations, business formation assistance, and discussion of potential financing options through government programs and financial institutions.

In addition, participants will have 20 hours of required greenhouse time focused on learning aquaponic techniques and methods, including taking a crop from seed to harvest, marketing the crop, and incorporating the resulting information into a business plan. Each participant will be allowed 100 square feet of aquaponics grow space in Eastern’s state-of-the-art greenhouse.

Smallwood said the first class of the incubator program will begin in the spring of 2017.

The joint venture was highlighted in the Aug. 5 episode of "Oklahoma Gardening" on OETA. "Oklahoma Gardening" is produced by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service through the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture and Agricultural Communications Services.

A number of community and college cooperative programs have been enhanced as the result of Eastern Oklahoma State College faculty and staff expanding programs and garnering federal funds to finance community development programs.

More than $9.4 million has been committed to the programs from federal agencies to the Wilburton community college.

Eastern’s nursing program has received a $2 million grant over the next three years to expand their Associate Degree Registered Nursing (ADN) program at Southeastern Oklahoma State University's McCurtain County campus in Idabel, Eastern's branch campus in McAlester and at the Wilburton campus.

Eastern Director of Nursing Wendy Hubbard says the purpose of the grant is to increase the number of nurses to meet the increasing need in southeastern Oklahoma and to encourage anyone interested in caring for others to choose nursing as a career.

Currently, Eastern operates the ADN and LPN-to-RN programs and is expanding health care initiatives at the McAlester campus in cooperation with McAlester Regional Hospital.

By adding additional faculty and program enhancement by the grant, Eastern has been able to increase the number of enrolling freshmen this year which will increase the number of graduates in future classes.

Eastern nursing graduates will more than double this spring, from 32 graduates last year to 67, as a result of the grant.

Partnerships with health and employment agencies in 11 southeastern Oklahoma counties will be impacted as a result of the new program.

The U.S. Department of Education named Eastern Oklahoma State College as one of only nine colleges and universities nationwide to receive million-dollar grants under its GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) program. Eastern will receive $6.7 million over the next six years to help pre-college students succeed with postsecondary education. The college, with campuses in Wilburton and McAlester, is the only grant winner in Oklahoma and one of only 27 in the nation.

Eastern is partnering with 19 junior and senior schools, the Choctaw Nation and a number of regional businesses to address severe gaps in services and resources in five southeastern Oklahoma counties. In the first year of the program, more than 1,400 common education students have been reached with tutoring, enrichment and travel programs, summer camps, and counseling to build academic skills and college aspirations through federal, local business and Eastern cooperation.

Additional grants of $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office on Violence Against Women provide the opportunity for Eastern Oklahoma State College to incorporate with community partners that include Kibois Women’s Shelter, PC-CARE, the Wilburton Police Department, the Latimer County Sheriff’s Department, Eastern's Department of Public Safety and numerous other organizations to increase services to students and within the community.

Eastern is able to provide cross-training and education opportunities for staff, response team members, domestic violence shelters and crisis center staff as well as law enforcement personnel to enhance understanding of services and responder roles.

USDA Rural Development (external link)

Oklahoma City Human Resources Society (external link)

Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance (external link)

i2E (external link)

Resources for Student Veterans and Active-Duty Military

Oklahoma Rehabilitation Council (external link)