Grant Will Encourage Manufacturing Careers

By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

June 17, 2014 – A $1.25 million grant to encourage middle schoolers in Pitt, Beaufort and Edgecombe counties to consider careers in advanced manufacturing was announced Monday.

Golden LEAF Foundation, an economic development organization, awarded the two-year grant to the Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Academy, which will fund teacher training, summer camp programming for students and establish classroom space for teaching science, technology, engineering, art/design, math and entrepreneurship processes, also called eSTEAM.

The goal is to create an education-to-workforce pipeline.

“A skilled, well-educated workforce is crucial to our economic development success,” said Wanda Yuhas, Pitt County Development Commission executive director. “This innovative program will give us an edge for both the recruitment and retention of high quality, advanced manufacturing companies.”

Pitt County government partnered with East Carolina University, Pitt Community College, Pitt County Schools, North East Carolina Preparatory School in Tarboro, P.S. Jones Middle School in Beaufort County, economic developers and local manufacturers to apply for the grant.

“What we’re looking for is to not infuse funding for two years but see that there is an ability to sustain this program beyond the two years,” said Pitt County Manager Scott Elliott.

Classes will be taught in Pitt County’s 13 middle and K-8 schools along with P.S. Jones and North East Carolina Preparatory School.

Staff development plans are in place and lab space will be outfitted this summer at Ayden Middle, E.B. Aycock and C.M. Eppes schools, said Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker. The school system’s remaining middle schools and K-8 schools will be outfitted next summer, he said.

Seventy-eight teachers will participate in training over the next two years. Local educators are excited.

“Our principals and teachers see what this will do,” Lenker said. “We’re talking about project-based learning, hands on learning.

“We have teachers who are facilitators and kids directing their own instruction,” Lenker said.

Middle School students are the program’s focus because researchers have found student creativity peaks in fourth and sixth grades but they disengage from those skills soon after, said Ted Morris, ECU associate vice chancellor of innovation and economic development.

Middle school teachers will teach eSTEAM-based classes beginning in the fall term. Starting with the summer of 2015, teachers and students will work together in the same studio environment for additional classes, Morris said.

“Most of us grew up thinking manufacturing was dangerous and dirty and it was. Now it isn’t,” Morris said.

Manufacturing is returning to North Carolina and communities need a generation of skilled workers who can easily adapt to a changing work environment, Morris said.

The collaborative nature of the project is what attracted the attention of Golden LEAF, said Dan Gerlach, president of Golden LEAF Foundation. “What made a difference for me and our staff is the private sector role in this project,” Gerlach said. Businesses such as Dyneema, a subsidiary of DSM which manufactures a special polyethylene fiber in Greenville, work with teachers to explain the skills they need in workers.

The project also has set outcomes for increased student performance, attendance and graduation rates, Gerlach said. And, it will measure the satisfaction employers have with the workers being produced.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.