Future is Digital Challenge offers free courses

The national Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) and the online learning platform Udacity are sponsoring the two-part initiative, designed to train rural Americans in new skills that will help them participate in the growing tech economy.
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Online education.(WLUC/Canva)
Published: Sep. 11, 2020 at 11:47 AM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Northern Michigan University students and regional community members are eligible to take a free course in either digital marketing, business analytics or front-end web development through The Future is Digital Challenge. The national Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) and the online learning platform Udacity are sponsoring the two-part initiative, designed to train rural Americans in new skills that will help them participate in the growing tech economy.

In the first phase, participants will enroll in one of the three self-paced foundational courses. No prerequisites are required. Those who commit 10 hours per week over a month and pass the final assessment will be eligible to qualify for one of 300 competitive scholarships toward Udacity nanodegrees in their chosen programs.

Selected phase two participants can expect to build upon fundamental skills by solving real-world problems and completing practitioner-level projects designed by industry experts. They will receive detailed project feedback from subject-matter experts and gain new skills that will prepare them for their future careers. The time commitment will remain a flexibly scheduled 10 hours per week, but extend over a longer period of three to four months.

Northern’s partnership with the Innovate Marquette Smartzone and CORI, a nonprofit action tank advancing inclusive economic prosperity and investment in small towns across the country, has created a unique opportunity for regional participation in the challenge.

CORI and its sister organization, Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI), previously named Marquette as one of 10 communities nationwide to participate in its 2020 Rural Innovation Initiative. Marquette was also one of several communities to receive technical assistance for a proposal to the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build to Scale competitive grant program to support digital economic growth around an innovation hub strategy.

“We are excited to build on Northern’s partnership with CORI and the Innovate Marquette SmartZone in promoting digital economic opportunity here in the Upper Peninsula,” said David Nyberg, director of Corporate Engagement at NMU and a member of the Board of Directors for the Innovate Marquette SmartZone. “We are grateful for CORI’s continued leadership at the national level to bridge the digital divide and especially appreciate their recognition and support of the initiatives that NMU, Innovate Marquette, industry and economic development partners are driving in the Marquette ecosystem to advance digital economic opportunity for students, alumni and community residents.”

Through The Future is Digital Challenge, CORI is merging its mission with Udacity, whose goal is to advance careers through tech education.

“This kind of technology-based innovative resource brings value to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Marquette,” said Joe Thiel, CEO of Innovate Marquette SmartZone. “As it’s our job to provide the community with the necessary resources to build the foundations of a successful career, which could ultimately grow the bandwidth for real job growth, we are excited to partner with Northern Michigan University and the Center on Rural Innovation to bring programs like this to the helm.”

Marketing materials for the digital challenge indicate that only 4 percent of rural workers in America reported working from home prior to COVID-19, and rural Americans are more likely to be employed in occupations that can only be conducted in person.

“Rural Americans need to prepare for a future that relies on digital skills, in which rural Americans have as much access to a forward-moving economy as their urban counterparts,” the materials stated. “Through this partnership with CORI and Udacity, we are bringing this opportunity to our community as part of our larger effort to develop scalable solutions. Digital skilling is an essential aspect of a thriving digital economy ecosystem, and will provide the groundwork for a sustainable economic future for our community.”

The digital marketing foundational course covers Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), value propositions and how to think in different marketing personas. Business analytics addresses different steps of the data analysis process and how to calculate summary statistics using spreadsheets. Students in the front-end development course will create and style web components using HTML and CSS. They will also learn to position and display website elements, debug HTML and CSS code and build a responsive website layout.

Registration for phase one opens here Sept. 22, and the foundational course must be completed by Nov. 5. Scholarship selections for the phase two advanced nanodegree programs will be made after Nov. 5.

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