The Importance of NVU to Our Community and Workforce
Op-Ed by NVRH CEO Shawn Tester
My relationship with Northern Vermont University and the Lyndon campus runs long and deep. My mother, in her 20s, chose to focus on raising my sister and me while working in the family business, and never attended college until her early 30s. Always a hard worker, by the early 80s she had enrolled in business classes at Lyndon State College and was able to balance work, raising a family and attending classes to receive her associate’s degree. I still remember hanging out on the campus lawn with my sister while she either met with professors or attended class. That degree enabled her to grow professionally, eventually having a long and successful career at a New Hampshire-based engineering firm from which she comfortably retired in 2017. This opportunity would never have been available to her without Lyndon.
Today, I have watched similar experiences with staff members at my organization. One of the biggest challenges facing Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH), and all our healthcare institutions, is our current and future workforce. The VSC, and especially NVU, plays a vital role in filling these essential positions. At NVRH alone, we currently employ 37 NVU-Lyndon graduates (formerly Lyndon State), 24 Castleton State graduates (23 of them are RNs), 3 Johnson State graduates, 15 CCV graduates, and 40 Vermont Tech (VTC) graduates (including 30 RNs). That is a total of 119 staff out of a workforce of just over 600. Many of these people, especially women, grew up here and are locals, but many others came here for college and stayed. These numbers highlight just how dependent our local healthcare system is on the Vermont State Colleges System to grow and support our workforce.
Vermont is facing a significant challenge in meeting our workforce needs, especially in nursing and other allied health roles, and NVU will play an essential role in helping us meet these needs. Over the last several months, we have worked closely with NVU and Vermont Tech to develop a strategy to expand NVU-Lyndon-based nursing programs, and this will give the University a strong platform to grow into other allied health offerings. I am not alone in seeing NVU stepping up to create Vermont’s 21stcentury workforce, giving young people a path into excellent careers to fill the job needs of the Northeast Kingdom. Other sectors, including outdoor recreation, banking, and information systems all benefit from NVU.
Yet, to those of us who are committed to the well-being of the Northeast Kingdom, NVU is more than just an educational organization: it is an “anchor institution,” underpinning our local economy as well as enhancing our quality of life. It is a concert venue and a training resource. The students who attend our campuses contribute to the vitality of our downtowns. NVU-Lyndon is where my middle school and junior high sons attend practice for their swim teams. It is the institution that brought to life the “Do North” co-working space, which enables entrepreneurs and remote-work professionals to relocate to our region. NVU-Lyndon is woven into the very fabric of the NEK, with the economic and cultural impact being far greater than many of us realize.
I love the Northeast Kingdom, which is why my wife and I chose to come back and raise our family here. My life’s mission is to make the Northeast Kingdom a better place to live, and that means having a strong healthcare system, ensuring the economic vitality of our region, and meeting the needs of the most underserved Vermonters. NVU is a vital resource for achieving these goals.
As the fall legislative session gets underway, we are hopeful that the legislature will approve the Vermont State Colleges System’s request for bridge funding. This funding will help ensure NVU continues to offer the best possible education and learning opportunities to students and continue to provide a workforce pipeline for Vermont’s employers. While the challenges the system faces seem daunting, I am confident that working together, we can forge a path that will allow the University, as well as the entire VSC system, to thrive.
Shawn P. Tester
CEO, Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital