NC East Alliance grows STEM in Eastern North Carolina through funding and educational partnerships

NC East Alliance grows STEM in Eastern North Carolina through funding and educational partnerships

February 22, 2024

By Suzanne Keil, Golden LEAF Program Officer

In early 2019, the Golden LEAF Foundation Board of Directors awarded $150,000 to NC East Alliance through the Community-Based Grants Initiative to implement a regional school innovation and professional development training program for STEM middle school teachers in Currituck, Dare, Halifax, Hertford, Hyde, Pasquotank, and Perquimans county school districts in conjunction with Golden LEAF funding received by four of the school districts to develop STEM labs. This pilot led to the development of Industry in Schools.

Recently NC East Alliance received a $15 million appropriation from the North Carolina General Assembly to continue to develop the new STEM East Industry In Schools initiative as a public/private partnership with industry to support the development of a new K-14 teacher training system in NC East’s 29 county region. A “working alliance” with NC East and 29 school systems and 10 community colleges, all located in eastern NC, has been developed for the growth and success of education, economic development, and workforce development in the region. 

The funds from the state are not a surprise to those who have worked on the Industry in Schools project and its pilot predecessor program in the past few years.

A key component of the Golden LEAF funded pilot of the Industry in Schools project was training teachers in the use of project-based learning (PBL) to develop hands-on modules for their students addressing real-world issues facing regional employers. Industry leaders joined teachers in the professional development training to discuss the types of jobs that are in high demand locally and regionally and to explain the details of their respective industries. The funding resulted in 29 middle school teachers and staff representing seven districts receiving training in project-based learning. Partnerships between K-12 schools and local business and industry were created through participation in presentations, tours, and course module or unit development.

Bruce Middleton, Executive Director of the STEM East Network, Akua Carraway, Program Associate with the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center, and Alesha Daughtrey, President of Mira Education, served as the project-based learning instructors and STEM consultants for the project. In addition to the workshops, they held virtual cafes with the teachers and staff from the participating school districts to discuss the project-based learning training and individual projects, as well as gathering input for planning upcoming workshops.

The project was implemented with six one-day workshops held at locations across eastern NC during the 2021-2022 school year:

  • Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck featuring Architecture and Sustainable Construction,
  • Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese featuring Coastal Science and the Economy,
  • Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City featuring Aviation and Aerospace,
  • Northeast Regional School of Biotechnology and Agriscience in Jamesville featuring Agriculture and Agriscience,
  • Center for Energy Education in Roanoke Rapids featuring Renewable Energy, and
  • Hertford Middle School in Murfreesboro discussing NC STEM classroom resources and the project-based learning wrap-up session.

Each workshop featured local industries and employers who spoke about their area of expertise. As an example, the presenters for the agriculture workshop included:

  • Dr. Gary Roberson, NCSU Professor & Extension Specialist
  • Laurence Lilley, President at Lilley International and Golden LEAF Board member
  • Simon Griffin, Regional Farm and Agriculture Consultant

After the completion of the Golden LEAF-funded project, STEM East funded a new series of teacher institutes for Health Sciences, Aviation, and Agriscience held in summer 2023. Like the first project, the second round of workshops was designed to grow teachers’ understanding of existing and emerging career clusters in eastern NC while developing a regional support network of experienced teachers.

NC East Alliance is currently partnering with business, industry, and community colleges to offer institutes for Green Energy (energy that can be produced using a method and source that causes no harm to the environment), Blue Economy (economic activities associated with the oceans and seas), and BioPharma (application of living organisms or extractions, by-products or components of living organisms, to prevent, relieve, or treat diseases) to be added in 2024.

To learn more about STEM East Industries in Schools, visit

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