Winners announced: $50K Beautiful Minds competition on innovating higher ed

Each organization is helping people to prepare for and succeed in our fast-changing world. 

The results of the Beautiful Minds competition on innovating higher education are in! In collaboration with Lumina Foundation, which is working to ensure that 60 percent of adults in the U.S. obtain a quality credential by 2025, the competition featured three organizations that are helping people to prepare for and succeed in our fast-changing world. 

The contestants included:

Each contestant was featured in a video produced by Freethink. The scoring of the competition was based on the like-to-dislike ratio that each video received from March 23 to May 31, with guaranteed prize money going to each contestant. 

Here are the results! 

  • 1st ($50,000): Returning Student: Complete 2 Compete (98.5 percent)
  • 2nd ($15,000): Reskilling Adults: EKCEP (98.2 percent)
  • 3rd ($10,000): Earn and Learn: District 1199C Training Fund (97.7 percent)

Check below to learn more about how each of the Beautiful Minds contestants is working to help U.S. adults prepare for a fast-changing future.

Returning Student: Complete 2 Compete 

How do you imagine the typical US college student? Although some might picture an 18-year-old freshman moving into a dorm, the reality is that many students are older, working part- or full-time jobs, and raising families while also pursuing degrees.

Due to these challenges, many U.S. adults have had to hit “pause” on college, leaving them with only partial credit toward their degree. 

In Mississippi, Complete 2 Compete is working to help these students cross the finish line. The initiative offers accelerated and flexible degree programs, mentoring, financial assistance, and other services to help adults with partial college credit complete their degrees. 

“Support is sometimes underestimated,” Amber Palmer, project coordinator at Complete 2 Compete, told Freethink. “The lives of our students are tremendously impacted by earning a degree. They have gone to gain employment opportunities, promotions on the job. They have proven to their children and themselves that despite particular circumstances or challenges, goals can be achieved.”

Reskilling Adults: EKCEP

The recent decline of the U.S. coal industry has jeopardized the careers of thousands of workers, especially in Appalachian regions where coal mining had been the lifeblood of local economies for decades.

To diversify the economies of these hard-hit communities, the Gene Haas eKentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute (eKAMI) is working to equip people — many of whom are former coal miners — with more modern skillsets, including training on Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, programming, and machine operation.

“We’re thrilled to bring 21st Century manufacturing to the mountains,” said Kathy Walker, who spent 30 years in the coal industry before becoming the director of eKAMI.

Earn and Learn: District 1199C Training Fund

In 2020, many states passed laws requiring early childhood educators to have a college degree. But considering that earning a requisite degree can cost up to $25,000, the legislation has posed challenges for many educators who are trying to simultaneously build their careers, obtain a degree, and navigate other responsibilities, like raising a family.

In Philadelphia, the District 1199C Training Fund is working to help educators obtain degrees without slowing career progression. The fund offers an apprenticeship that includes 4,000 hours of on-the-job learning, for which apprentices simultaneously earn college credit and a wage. 

This allows employers to build up their workforce from within: By joining the apprenticeship and paying just $500, employers can make sure current employees are getting the degree they need without sacrificing their existing jobs and relationships with students.

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