UNC assists Lenoir County with business plan to launch STEM East (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)

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Thomas Stith is program director for economic development for the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC.

Lenoir County, in Eastern North Carolina, benefits from a diverse population and a unique mix of assets and economic incentives that are serving to attract a variety of modern businesses with a high dependence upon STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)-related employee skills.  The county’s transition from a primarily tobacco- and textile-based economy to an economy in which higher-tech industries can flourish, however, has not been without some challenges.  In particular, educational attainment has lagged the levels required by these new industries, as the percentage of the population with college degrees remains low.  Clearly, innovative solutions are needed to ensure that the students graduating from Lenoir County’s schools are equipped to fill jobs in this new, more technical career landscape.

The newly-formed STEM East organization  in Lenoir County offers a unique, exciting solution to this particular need, both to facilitate long-term student success and to continue to draw new businesses, via a region-wide collaborative approach to STEM[1].  The primary function of STEM East will be to provide a foundational platform of collaboration between local parties affiliated with STEM (or the related topics of economic development and general youth advancement), permitting positive impact on the STEM-readiness of the Lenoir County Public Schools’ graduates and on the size of the pool of qualified employees for local industry.  Nodes of the STEM East collaborative network will initially include:

  • Lenoir County Public Schools
  • Business and Industry
  • Healthcare
  • Government
  • Informal STEM-Education Opportunities
  • Non-Governmental and Community Organizations
  • College and University
  • Community College

Once a platform of STEM-related collaboration is launched and proven effective, the region will have a solid base for deploying STEM-focused “applications” aimed at addressing targeted needs in the Lenoir County population (such as curriculum development) .  Additionally, this collaborative regional approach to STEM education will allow a single, unified voice when it comes to related advocacy matters, through both governmental and economic-development channels.

In helping to bring STEM East from concept to reality, a team lead by me and staffed by Business School students Olanrewaju Ogedengbe and Andrea Hartman, collaborated with the local STEM East Design Team to help provide strategic direction and formalize the organization’s business plan, in order to advance the STEM East initiative from the Design Phase to the Implementation Phase over a period of two months.  Throughout the process,  the NC STEM Community Collaborative organization and community leaders donated their time and resources to keep the project alive.   To mark the major achievement in the history of STEM education in Lenoir County, July 8, 2010, the date of completion of the draft business plan, was declared as “STEM Day,” where stakeholders[2] gathered to celebrate the STEM East progress (see photo).


[1] Lenoir County was one of an initial set of three NC locations selected for resource investment by the NC STEM Community Collaborative to help develop community-generated solutions to STEM needs:  https://www.ncstem.org/communities/lenoir-county.html.

[2] Representatives on behalf of senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr; representatives on behalf of congressmen G.K. Butterfield  and Walter B. Jones; representatives from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Battelle Memorial Institute; Tom Vermillion, leader of Lenoir’s STEM Design Team; Lenoir County Superintendent of Schools Terry Cline; Joe Freddoso, president and CEO of MCNC; Gordon Vermillion with the Committee of 100; NC STEM community members and staff; Global TransPark’s Board of Directors; county commissioners and school board members; members of the N.C. Board of Education; Bob Beicher of N.C. State University; Sam Houston with N.C. SMT Center; and others—https://www.ncstem.org/blog/lenoir-stem-team-hosts-press-event-and-receives-funding-today-in-kinston.

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