Kyle Lovern/Williamson Daily News Dr. Bob Gunter, president of Southern W.Va. Community and Technical College, was the guest speaker for the monthly meeting of the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce.

WILLIAMSON - Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College has a lot of great things happening and many are coming to the Williamson campus, college officials told members of the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

Southern President Bob Gunter and some of his staff hosted the monthly meeting of the Chamber on Thursday afternoon.

Gunter outlined some of the changes coming to the community college and then opened up the meeting for comments and questions.

Gunter talked about the recent West Virginia legislation that passed to help students with paying for a high-quality certificate or associate degree. The WV Invests Grant program, sometimes referred to as the "free community college" bill, is a "last dollar in" program. This means that once students use all of their other federal and/or state grant awards first, if they qualify, the WV Invests program will cover the remaining costs for tuition and fees at West Virginia community and technical colleges. The grant program is designed to help more West Virginians earn the credentials they need to get jobs that will allow them to live and work right here at home.

Requirements for qualifying include:

- Completing an annual Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

- Maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0 (a 'C' average) on all coursework completed after receiving the first grant award.

- Continuing to register for at least 6 credit hours each semester until certificate or degree is earned.

- Making adequate progress toward completing a certificate or degree.

- Passing a drug test prior to the beginning of each term in which grant funding is received.

Gunter said signing up for the grant program will require students to work their first two years in the Mountain State.

Gunter told Chamber members that Southern is expanding the nursing program and bringing back part of that program to the Williamson campus. More details will be released in the near future. He hopes to build a regional nursing simulation lab on the fifth floor of the main building on the Williamson campus.

The local campus is also renovating the old National Guard Armory, which will house a gymnasium for intramural sports and a new chemistry lab. Some mining classes also will be available in the old armory building.

Southern also plans to start a hospitality/tourism degree program to help fill jobs in the growing tourism industry in southern West Virginia.

The college already has started its enrollment process for the summer and fall semesters. Gunter expects enrollment to increase with the new programs and by communicating what the community and technical college already offers.

"We want to also recruit the non-traditional students," he added.

The college is also offering summer camps for young teenagers.

Southern has started a pilot program in Logan County allowing high school students to take college classes to get a jump on their future education. Gunter said the college hopes to expand this into the other counties and they have already had talks with Lincoln County.

Gunter said Southern wants to be more involved in the communities it serves. It also has campuses in Logan, Boone, Lincoln and Wyoming counties. Southern West Virginia Community College was established as an independently accredited, comprehensive community college on July 1, 1971, through the consolidation of two existing branches of Marshall University.

Attending the meeting with Gunter was Rita Roberson, vice president for Institutional Advancement; Perry Jobe, director of Campus Operations for the Williamson campus; and Mandy Lester, public relations specialist.