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Employers on board with STEM East

Published August 29, 2018
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Additional STEM East Region articles:

Health care providers connect directly with educators

Teachers educate students about careers, but who educates the teachers – and administrators and school counselors – about the good-paying jobs that are readily available in their communities?

In the eastern region of North Carolina, businesses are taking it upon themselves to educate the educators directly.

“What we want to do is let the school systems know and the teachers know and the counselors know that there are good-paying jobs right here in Lenoir County,” said UNC Lenoir Health Care Human Resources Director Jimmy Person. “We want to teach the students that you don’t have to go other places. You can go to Lenoir Community College and get a degree in radiology and get a $50,000-a-year job two miles away.”

At UNC Lenoir Health Care, there’s a shortage of nurses and nursing assistants in particular (See “Beefing up health care job exposure through early education”). The same goes for the region’s largest health care provider, Vidant Health in Greenville. Vidant is continually seeking qualified nurses and other health care professionals.

The two health care providers have something else in common – a seat on the 11-county Eastern North Carolina Employers and Superintendents Council. Person brings 35 years of hospital HR experience to the council’s quarterly meetings. Vidant’s Chief Human Resources Officer John Marques has been part of the council for about three years.

“Vidant was a member and early supporter, having recognized STEM as key to economic and workforce development,” Marques said. “By being part of such a vibrant and forward-thinking group, we can play a key role in support and advocacy of STEM education and programs for eastern North Carolina. Given the socioeconomic demographics of the area, we believe STEM can ignite an engine for growth.”

The two men appreciate an opportunity to effect change at a grassroots level. “By being around the table, developing relationships with the superintendents and the other representatives on the STEM East council, we can bring back ideas to our county,” Person said. “About a year ago we had all the counselors here and showed them the hospital, gave tours, presented the kinds of jobs that we have here. . . . It’s just surprising that students don’t really know what’s available to them.”

Duke Energy seeks inquisitive new employees

NEW BERN, NC – Duke Energy is one of the largest electric power holding companies in the United States, and to maintain that position it needs to attract top-performing students, particularly those who have developed STEM skills through hands-on experiential learning and exposure to the engineering design process.

“As we look at the upcoming workforce, we want inquisitive minds,” said Government and Community Relations Manager Millie Chalk. “We want a workforce that can take us to the next level. And that to me is what STEM is providing us, and that is what our commitment to STEM education in North Carolina is really about. How do we build a better workforce? How do we grow our economy to be more productive and to do more and be more? That comes from a grassroots effort in education.”

Among Duke Energy’s investments in STEM education are grants that have helped establish Pitsco Education labs in elementary and middle schools in the eastern region of North Carolina where for years the STEM East network has been making inroads and connecting business and education representatives.

Chalk recently spent time at Bridgeton Elementary School in New Bern, where a $25,000 Duke Energy grant helped fund a Pitsco STREAM Missions lab for students in Grades 3-5. Principal Melisa Thompson said she and her staff were excited when the lab was announced, primarily because of the known potential benefits of STEM education delivered in a collaborative way such as the four-person Crews who complete Missions work.

“Anytime you can give kids inquiry-based learning, it’s exciting,” Thompson said. “They learn how to think and how to problem solve and how to explore. In preschool and kindergarten they learn through play. Well, with the older kids it’s not play, but it is exploration.”

Not to mention the built-in engineering design loop where students learn that it’s OK – even good – to fail, as long as they try again while making changes in an attempt to improve.

“We learn from our failures, and hopefully we come to a better solution,” said Chalk, who briefly taught physics and chemistry at the secondary level before returning to college to earn an engineering degree that led to a position with Duke Energy, where she has worked for the past 28 years. “Obviously, you don’t want to have a failure and it be catastrophic, but you do want people to know that it’s OK to have an idea that might not be the right idea, but it might lead to a better idea. So, I think that format of learning is very important.”

Bringing down the silos: Hyster-Yale official credits STEM East for getting business and education on the same page

GREENVILLE, NC – A couple decades ago, the concept behind the STEM East network was inconceivable. Business and education were not only siloed, but there were few lines of communication between the two.

Wayne Washington is happy those days are mostly long past – at least in the eastern region of North Carolina. Washington is the human resources manager for the engineering group at Hyster-Yale in Greenville, a leading international manufacturer of lifts. He also serves on the Eastern North Carolina Employers and Superintendents Council, which is comprised of school superintendents and business and industry representatives from an 11-county region.

“STEM East has been excellent. They represent what is needed in the workforce,” Washington said of the third-party entity that has been tearing down the silos and blending business and education into the natural mix it should have been all along. “They’ve been an excellent collaborator and consultant, bringing business, industry, and education together so that we could form these programs and help these kids out.”

Working closely with educators on the council, business representatives can share ideas for how best to prepare the region’s future workforce. Hyster-Yale’s production plant and offices in Greenville need a steady supply of engineers and skilled manufacturers, who benefit from hands-on STEM programs and related courses throughout their education.

In addition to promoting the implementation of STEM-related programs and activities at all age levels, Hyster-Yale wants students as young as middle school to visit their facility so they can see firsthand the well-paying jobs that might be available when they graduate from high school, community college, or university.

“We’re more in need of soft skills and knowledge in terms of science, technology, engineering, and math; the ability to work in teams and collaborate,” Washington said. “When they can see us physically working and can see what we do on a daily basis, they’re more educated and ready when they come out to actually work here or someplace else. It benefits the economy because we have a more educated workforce.”

“I’ve always been more of a traditional teacher, and this [using the T-Bot® II to teach Algebra 2] got me out of my comfort zone. But this generation of kids, if you do not make that application, they’re doing it just because I’m assigning it. So now they’re making the connection. . . . They have something to tie it back to.”

– Beatrice Villarreal, algebra teacher, Somerset High School, Somerset, Texas

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