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VESTA receives $4.99M grant

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Last week Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus hosted more than 40 representatives of the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) management team and National Science Foundation (NSF) visiting committee.

The visit came as VESTA, an NSF-funded partnership between the Missouri State University system, 17 two-year institutions across the country, state agriculture agencies, vineyards and wineries, received a four-year, $4.99 million NSF grant to establish VESTA as a National Center of Excellence.

Previously a regional center, as a national center VESTA will assist the economic development and sustainability of the rapidly expanding U.S. grape and wine production industry.

Chancellor Jo Alice Blondin said, “The Ozark Campus is proud to be a VESTA partner, and we know the work we are doing will positively impact the economic development of our region, particularly in tourism.

“This grant prepares us for the long-term sustainability of our viticulture and enology program, while at the same time assisting growers and wineries in our region with their workforce development needs.”

Of the $4,999,812 in grant money, Arkansas Tech-Ozark will receive $245,000 over the four-year period. The Ozark Campus began offering classes through VESTA in 2009. Its technical certificate in viticulture allows students to demonstrate the application of specific agricultural knowledge, techniques and theories to improve vineyard health. The Altus vineyards and wineries, due to their proximity to Ozark, provide excellent employment and internship opportunities for students.

Kenneth Warden, Arkansas Tech-Ozark’s chief business and community outreach officer, took the group Wednesday on tours of the Wiederkher, Post Familie and Mount Bethel wineries, showcasing the Arkansas grape and wine industry.

“Hosting the NSF National Visiting Committee was our pleasure,” Warden said. “The group was impressed by the rich history and development of the grape and wine industry in our region, as well as by the high quality wines.

“The VESTA project has been and continues to be an excellent opportunity for the Ozark Campus and our area. I look forward to the increased impact and industry advancement the National Center of Excellence grant will provide.”

The group, which was made up of members from all over the country, lodged in Russellville at Arkansas Tech University’s Lakepoint Conference Center. States with schools participating in VESTA include Arkansas, Missouri, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

During the next four years, VESTA will look to broaden its scope in the Northeastern, Eastern, Northwestern and Western regions of the country. Another goal is to produce highly qualified technicians with industry validated credentials for the grape and wine production industry. Finally, officials will broaden the scope of activities that support professional and talent development of faculty, students, entrepreneurs and the industry workforce.