Eastern North Carolina’s Universities, Schools and Workforce Development Organizations Prepare Students for High-Tech Careers
The region raises awareness of career tracks in STEM fields
The power of collaboration is hard at work in Eastern North Carolina. The region’s workforce development organizations, higher education institutions, locals schools and businesses work in tandem to provide educational pathways to students at an early age that lead to careers in in-demand fields.
On the Right Pathways
A major component of that effort involves incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) into the curriculum in earlier school grades.
The STEM East Network — a collaboration between school districts and the business community — works to develop and support programs that create career paths for students to strengthen workforce and economic development efforts.
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“The NC Department of Public Instruction has done a great job of defining curriculum pathways that prepare students for future employment. These pathways cover broad areas of need from agriculture education to health care and advanced manufacturing,” says Bruce Middleton, executive director of STEM East, an initiative of the NCEast Alliance economic development organization. “STEM East assists school districts with connecting those pathways to in-demand jobs at regional business and industry. Our intent is to expose students to the expanding variety of STEM-related jobs in our region so that learning along a specific pathway also leads to a landing place with one of our employers.”
The organization partners with programs, such as Teachers@Work and the NC Kenan Fellows to help place teachers in local businesses for summer internships, exposing teachers to real-world experiences where they see knowledge and skills in action.
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"They are then able to bring these experiences back into their classrooms and make instruction more intentional as students can see the ‘why’ of learning as they interact with the ‘what,’” he says. “We also host a virtual platform, STEM East Connect, which brings business, industry and other STEM professionals directly into the classrooms. Teachers and students can schedule these virtual conversations to help bring relevance to their learning while asking detailed questions and receiving expert answers. This also serves as an introduction for students to regional jobs opportunities and potential employers.”
A Stronger Workforce
The region’s colleges and universities are also working to create pathways for students within the Eastern North Carolina job market.
Elizabeth City State University, for example, boasts the state’s only four-year aviation science degree program to prepare students for jobs in a growing aviation industry. The university’s Aviation Advisory Board, which includes members from various industry backgrounds including military, defense contractors, academia, law enforcement and the local airport authority, is instrumental in helping ECSU align education with workforce needs, industry standards and educational requirements.
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“Instructors also maintain personal and professional contacts that are within the industry, and utilize them whenever possible as guest speakers and for updates and trends that are ongoing within the industry,” says Kuldeep S. Rawat,, director of Aviation Science at ECSU. “We also encourage — and in some cases require — students to complete internships. Students have completed internships at the local U.S. Coast Guard air station, Elizabeth City Regional Airport, N.C. DOT-Aviation, the FAA, Army, Air Force and many others. We also help connect students to the industry through field trips to aviation specific industry or operations and interaction with guest speakers either currently working in aviation industry or with extensive aviation industry experience.”
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Rawat says ECSU promotes careers in aviation to students even before they enroll. ECSU’s mobile STEM Lab visits local schools and uses aviation and unmanned aircraft demonstrations to introduce students to this STEM-related field. ECSU also partners with local school districts to sponsor aviation/aerospace-focused STEM camps during summer and hosts the Aviation Career Education academy for middle and high school students on campus.
“The idea is unique in that many middle and high school students are not aware of the potential within the aviation industry, or that it is within their reach,” Rawat says. “And the industry also benefits because it gives them a local pool of candidates to select for their workforce needs.”