by David Dix

RPC Publisher

NOCHE, the alphabet soup name for the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education, may not be very well known to most of us, but as a collaborative force, it has the potential to ac-complish a lot for our region.

That is the assessment of Ann Womer Benjamin, the Aurora resident and former Ohio representative for much of Portage County, who, since leaving the Ohio Department Insurance which she headed up, has become the director of NOCHE.

"We represent 26 institutions of higher education, public and private, in a 14-county area," Womer Benjamin told me. NOCHE is a private, non-profit organization with a $1.5 million budget and a staff of about eight, housed in the Hanna Building in downtown Cleveland.

Started in the 1950s by business leaders and philanthropists Ralph Besse and Frank Joseph, NOCHE facilitates collaborations between higher education and business.

It advances economic development by promoting partnerships between high education and business.

It also focuses on retaining and attracting talent to northeast Ohio by promoting internships for up-and-coming intelligent minds currently on the campus of our universities and colleges.

Locally, Kent State, Hiram College and the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine have representatives on NOCHE's board.

OTHER representations include University of Akron, Cleveland State, Youngstown University, Oberlin, Wooster, Ashland, the Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Cleveland, and many other fine colleges.

Carol Cartwright, retired Kent State president, served as the interim director of NOCHE until Womer Benjamin's appointment and, according to Womer Benjamin, the work of the energetic retired university president in her six months of service "made me aware once more of how extraordinary she is."

NOCHE's new strategic plan calls for it to focus more on talent development and policy avocation, Womer Benjamin said.

Working with companies in Northeast Ohio, NOCHE operates a Web site -- Clevelandintern.net -- to publicize job openings. The site gets about 12,000 visits per month, she said.

NOCHE is also cataloging ongoing research in higher education, particularly efforts that involve collaborations between schools in the area and with the area's businesses.

One of its areas of current focus is the Northeast Ohio Universities Collaboration and Innovation Study Commission, initiated by former State Rep. Jim Trakas of Independence, who has since been term limited out, but whose goal with his commission has been to avoid duplication by universities and achieve better results through collaboration.