A Golden LEAF Foundation-funded project aims to train students for advanced manufacturing and entrepreneurial jobs with the ultimate goal of economically transforming Eastern North Carolina.
The foundation this week announced the award of a $1.25 million grant to support an Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Academy.
The training initiative involving multiple partners in Eastern North Carolina and schools in Edgecombe, Pitt and Beaufort counties will offer learning experiences to students in the areas of entrepreneurship Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/design and Mathematics (eSTEAM).
“This project hits the sweet spot of the foundation and the Community-Based Grants Initiative by focusing on preparing a work force for jobs available in the region,” Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach said.
Gerlach said grants awarded through the Community-Based Grants Initiative are limited to “projects that address agriculture, education, work force development, infrastructure and health care infrastructure.”
North East Carolina Preparatory School, a third-year public charter school in Tarboro, is the only Edgecombe County participant in the project.
The charter school serves students in Edgecombe, Nash, Halifax and Pitt counties.
“NECP is pleased to be a part of this exciting program that is closely aligned with our instructional methods and goals for educating students in this region,” said North East Prep Executive Director John D. Westberg.
He said the eSTEAM program goals and the school’s goals are compatible in that the school’s instructional program takes an “experiential hands-on approach that emphasizes the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”
Classrooms are structured to support “cooperative learning in small groups,” Westberg said, and to help students develop the skills they will need to thrive in the work force.
North East Prep’s head administrator said he also views the eSTEAM program as an opportunity to collaborate with others in the region “seeking to spur economic development by linking education to industry.”
That’s where the Golden LEAF Foundation comes in.
Manufacturers in the region are becoming more sophisticated and “high-tech” and need a trained work force, Gerlach said.
“(East Carolina University) has done a good job in working with the school districts in the area and with Pitt Community College and trying to get together a pipeline of young people interested in these disciplines that will make high wages and allow jobs to be created in Eastern North Carolina,” Gerlach said. “This project expands that role into Edgecombe and Beaufort counties.”
P.S. Jones Middle School in Beaufort County will participate in the project, along with North East Prep in Edgecombe County, several Pitt County schools, Pitt Community College and East Carolina University.
Pitt County Manager Scott Elliott proposed the collaboration and approved the project for submission to the Golden LEAF Foundation.
ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development will administer the grant.
“This innovative approach is all about talent enhancement and retention and has the potential to be an economic development game changer,” said Ted Morris, associate vice chancellor of the Office of Innovation and Economic Development at ECU. “We are all excited to implement such a forward-thinking program and for this unique opportunity to stimulate true regional transformation.”
At North East Prep alone, about 500 students will benefit from the work force preparedness training. The eSTEAM lab will be located in the charter school’s new middle school building, and the first stages of the implementation of eSTEAM will begin in the fall, said North East Prep Director of Communication Diane LeFiles. She said students will be trained to use the lab equipment to create solutions to real-world problems.
“Using the old image of ‘building a better mousetrap’ as an example, a small group of students would brain-storm creative ways toward a better design. With the guidance of their teachers, they use skills from across the eSTEAM curriculum areas to generate a design,” LeFiles said. “The group actually builds and tests a prototype of a new-age trap for the pesky rodents. Then, the group prepares a presentation for the class on what they have learned during the process of creating their final product.”
Not only does the academy benefit students, but it also helps teachers better prepare their students for the work force, Gerlach said. He said the comprehensive plan developed by regional partners includes “career awareness strategies, eSTEAM-related in-school and out-of-school curriculum and experiences, and professional development opportunities for 78 Eastern N.C. teachers.”