Del. Israel O'Quinn, R-Washington County; Emmett Tracy, dean of the School of Business at Emory & Henry College; Will Payne, managing partner of Coalfield Strategies and project lead for InvestSWVA; and Will Clear, deputy director for Virginia Energy. Courtesy of Emory & Henry.

Emory & Henry College will begin offering a new course in blockchain technology starting in June.

The five-week course, which will be open to students and working professionals, is a joint project of the college’s School of Business, the William & Mary Global Research Institute and InvestSWVA, a public-private economic development initiative. 

The course will be aimed at blockchain neophytes who want to understand how to incorporate it into their business, said Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County.

“The whole point is to sort of open this up so that everyone understands it, regardless of your experience level,” said O’Quinn, an Emory & Henry alumnus and a cofounder of InvestSWVA. “And then understand, ‘Hey, how can this work for me?’”

Blockchain is probably best known as the technology that enables bitcoin, but its uses extend far beyond digital currencies.

Blockchain is a type of decentralized digital ledger that can store and track just about any type of information, from medical records to shipping data. Because of the way it’s designed, blockchain is extremely secure; the records, and the transactions associated with them, are essentially locked once they’re added to the chain. They can be seen, but not changed.

Will Clear, deputy director of Virginia Energy (and another Emory & Henry alum), said the applications for blockchain in Southwest Virginia – especially for its energy and agriculture sectors – became clear through a series of conversations with economic development officials, legislators and leaders at Emory & Henry and William & Mary.

A focus for InvestSWVA has been on how best to use land to spur economic development. Clear and Will Payne, the group’s project lead, have collaborated on a number of initiatives, with a focus on agriculture and energy.

Blockchain could be a boon for those projects, Clear said. Among the agriculture initiatives underway is a project for growing specialty grains for brewers and distillers. Blockchain could help track those grains through the supply chain to better monitor the carbon footprint involved and to create a visible link between the family farms that grow the crops and the breweries that use them, he said.

“It’s time to tell a different story about Virginia’s Southwest,” Payne said in a statement. “This course in blockchain technology, put together through a remarkable partnership, is another step in a better direction for developing the region’s economy – yet it also taps the strengths of generations of entrepreneurs and industrialists who shaped this region and delivered benefits to the entire world.”

Troy Wiipongwii, who will teach the course and who formerly led the William & Mary Blockchain Lab, also will serve as an advisor to InvestSWVA as they seek to connect the course work to the practical economic development work happening in the region, Payne said.

Emory & Henry’s program joins several others in the region, including a six-week blockchain fundamentals course at Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon and an eight-week blockchain certificate program at Virginia Tech.

In Wise County, the circuit court clerk’s office has adopted blockchain to modernize its database of land records; interns from colleges around the region are being trained to help with the transition.

Megan Schnabel

Megan Schnabel is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at megan@cardinalnews.org.