Suzanne Julian is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration. She is currently working with the STEP leadership team in Pamlico County as part of the Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps program.
All this week at Pamlico Community College, educators from both the Pamlico public school system and from Pamlico Community College are gathering to receive training for the NC REAL curriculum. NC REAL (Rural Entrepreneurship through Active Learning) is a non-profit aimed at using education to promote entrepreneurship and small-business creation in North Carolina, especially in rural areas. The REAL program has been used across the nation (as well as internationally) since its development in the early 1980s.
The REAL approach is based on a commitment to hands-on, experiential learning. Students in a REAL program (who might be K-12 students, college students, or older learners) learn about entrepreneurship through creating business plans; doing problem-solving, decision-making, and goal-setting exercises; and using a cooperative, peer-teaching approach. The curriculum also includes a heavy dose of financial literacy.
The STEP committee in Pamlico County is launching NC REAL here as part of a long-term, multi-faceted entrepreneurial-development plan. The NC REAL training will complement the other efforts the STEP team is making to create a culture of entrepreneurship and youth engagement in Pamlico County. For instance, in addition to the REAL curriculum, which will be incorporated into everyday activities in the classroom, Pamlico High School and Pamlico Community College will also be offering targeted classes on entrepreneurship. The high school will also offer specific “career track” options for students in eight specific fields, and will connect students to the entrepreneurial and small-business resources of Pamlico Community College. The STEP team, along with other county leaders, have recognized the importance of engaging and retaining young people. These efforts are part of a larger drive to give kids who grow up in Pamlico County a reason to stay.
Any good economic development strategy must be multi-pronged. It’s not enough to focus only on tourism, or only on local entrepreneurship, or only on investments from outside businesses. In Pamlico County, I’m glad to see the STEP team implementing a substantial education aspect as part of their overall strategy. This attention to education also demonstrates another factor that’s vital to success: long-term thinking. These investments in youth and in education aren’t going to change the county overnight–the real payoff will come years down the line. Having the patience to invest in a long-term strategy like education takes discipline, faith, and vision, and I’ve been impressed with how much of those things I’ve seen here in Pamlico County. Finally, the NC REAL initiative here has been a real triumph of collaboration, as the school system and the community college team up to create a seamless, integrated span of educational opportunities for the community. Cheers to another well-planned and well-executed effort here in Pamlico!