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Louisville's 55,000 Degrees Initiative Awards Innovation Competition Prizes

Officials with Louisville’s 55,000 Degrees initiative have announced the winners of  its Innovation in Education Attainment Competition.The Gheens Foundation put up $20,000  for the best idea that uses technology or innovation to increase the number of college degrees in Louisville. The competition received over 90 entries from around the country, says executive director Mary Gwen Wheeler, and that was whittled down to six finalists.“Most of them had to do with adult learners, you know, trying to bring back those that had stopped out from college and encouraging them to finish their degrees," she says.The prize will now be split between two applicants.



A share of the prize goes to Penny Smith, who developed a prototype for an application and web service called Keys to Degrees. The program connects high school students and adult learners with information related to higher education.



The other winners are Matt Bergman and Kevin Rose from the University of Louisville, who want to build off an already existing university program that helps working adults earn degrees. Bergman says the prize will be used to market and support advancement of the program.



“University of Louisville is still adult friendly. I know that we have billboards with lots of young people on them but we do have programs that are focused specifically for the adult learner," says Bergman.


Louisville's is not meeting goals set by the 55,000 Degrees program which ends in 2020. However, executive director Mary Gwen Wheeler has said positive results from some initiatives supporting the cause have yet to be seen.


Other finalists include Jonathan Erwin whose idea would use a mobile platform and app that would link users to useful information and for obtaining college degrees. 


The proposal says: "The primary goal would be the consistent engagement and mentoring of both traditional and nontraditional student populations while at the same time allowing for multiple businesses, educational institutions and other agencies to connect in an intimate and relevant way with their target audience via push notifications and a mobile intranet with dedicated content from a variety of networks. All while maintaining security and privacy."


Finalist Christopher Cprek of LVL1, creation of Makerspaces where middle and high school students could interact with technology.


From Cprek's proposal: "Makerspaces provide new opportunities to engage students in the 21st century. This is because the possibilities of low-cost rapid prototyping technologies combined with self-directed education addresses a persistent disconnect between STEM education methods and the practice of STEM disciplines. To put it simply, to create the innovators and engineers of tomorrow we must get them innovating and making today."


Finalist Meredith Geraci's proposal would create an Android and Facebook the state's College Access Program.


The College Access program allows perspective college students to access data on subjects such as 

Planning for College, Selecting a School, Paying for College, Repaying Your Loan, Using Military 

Benefits and Attending College as an Adult.



Finalist Judah Thornewill proposed developing Network E, which would "create and deliver a fully functional cloud-based course including live videoconferencing. Network E has been formed to support faculty and institutions in creating and delivering more courses using this method. Potential exists to create attractive, convenient online courses which can be offered free or at a low cost to