A Mitchell County couple credited with making education curriculum just a ‘click away’ for art teachers around the nation are the recipients of Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa Entrepreneur Award. Derek and Jessica Balsley created The Art of Education University to fill a need for resources and support for elementary art teachers. The online, accredited university offers 20 online courses “at every stage of their professional career,” whether that means getting help to develop a new art curriculum, incorporate new learning technology into the classroom or help teachers hone their own fine art skills.
Growth of the Art of Education University started with an idea. “We started as a blog, then added courses, and kept building and I’m proud to say that in the past three years, we’ve been institutionally accredited, which allows us to offer Masters degrees, worldwide,” says Jessica Balsley, founder and president. The online university has more than 40 enrolled students and opportunities for continued growth, because the founders and staff know how to innovate to meet the evolving needs of educators.
Balsley says no other town could compete for ‘home base’ because they wanted to come home to their roots. “Derek and I are originally from Osage, and were in the Des Moines metro area, and really enjoyed that, but we kind of always had a goal to come back to our hometown, to our grandparents and family. We know that raising a family in that rural environment and supportive school system means it’s just a great place to grow up.”
Like other successful startups, the Art of Education University was founded to fill a void for continuing education opportunities for K-12 art educators. As a former art instructor, Jessica was frustrated with the lack of resources and professional development available to art teachers, which led the Balsleys to launch their school. Originally established as a free online platform with resources for art instructors, the formation of the accredited University followed shortly and will be celebrating its eighth anniversary in March.
The Art of Education University employs seven people in Osage, but they also draw on instructors from all across the country. The Balsleys credit technological advancement, particularly expanded rural broadband access, as the key factor that allows them to operate the Art of Education University with a nationwide reach from rural northern Iowa.
“I think the Balsley’s story is absolutely incredible,” says Mitchell County Farm Bureau President Beth Ratchut. “They could have launched this venture anywhere, and they chose their hometown. With employees from coast to coast across the country, they chose Osage and they are here supporting our community, and that’s a really great story.”
RRI is an Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) initiative supporting new and existing businesses through education, mentoring, and financial resources. Since its inception, RRI has helped create $125M in economic impact for rural communities. The next RRI Business Success Seminar, “The Journey to Your Vision,” takes place on April 26 in Clinton. For more information about that upcoming seminar, RRI and the RRI Pathways, a searchable technology that connects entrepreneurs with resources, click here.