Hands-on Learning Connects Teachers with Industry

RALEIGH, NC ─ A select group of K-12 teachers from across North Carolina spent their summer working in research labs, manufacturing facilities, hospitals, agribusinesses and other local workplaces learning how researchers and industry experts use science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) on the job.

The teachers ─ all 2013-14 Kenan Fellows ─ are now translating what they have learned from their summer work experience back to the classroom creating lessons to engage students with relevant and hands-on applications for learning STEM ─ answering the age-old student question “When am I ever going to use this?”

Open Doors

Local employers, universities and community colleges host Kenan Fellows in their work sites for five weeks during the summer allowing the teachers to better align classwork with workforce skills. Businesses and educational entities that opened their doors to Kenan Fellows included Ingersoll Rand, PlyGem, Duplin Winery, Vidant Health, Cottle Farms, Southeastern Community College, NC State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, Murphy-Brown, LLC, Fleet Readiness Center East, Duke Energy Progress, CommScope, Warren County Farm Bureau, Lenovo, Craven Community College, NC AT&T, Biogen Idec, Williamsdale Research Farm, Duke Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness, the NC Council on Economic Education and NC Department of Public Instruction.

In April, the 49 North Carolina teachers from different disciplines were chosen to participate in the competitive Kenan Fellows Program. Their summer work experience ranged from learning to grow Venus flytraps in a micropropagation lab and discovering the science behind salmonella to understanding the electrical grid and observing first-hand how pigs are raised for pork production.
“It is really hard to find real-world math content that I feel will connect to my students,” said Mary Williams, a Duplin County high school teacher who spent her summer at Murphy-Brown, LLC. “But this experience has given many relevant examples of how math is used in the real world ─ especially in Duplin County.”

Mutual Benefit

Williams’ mentor, Dr. Christina Phillips, Assistant Director of Production Research for Murphy-Brown, LLC, said the experience of hosting a local public school teacher has provided an avenue for the company to share information regarding local job opportunities and the education and experience required for those jobs. “As a native of Duplin County, I view this experience as a way to give back to my community by educating the students of Duplin County about the swine industry, through the hands-on experience of their teachers,” Phillips said.

The five-week summer experience is supported by two weeks of professional development designed to build a network of solutions-driven teachers with strong leadership skills. The program has been held as a national model for teacher retention in the proposed Keep Teachers Teaching Act introduced by U.S. Congressmen David Price. It is made possible through the generous support of donors and partners.

*Pictured: (right) 2013-14 Kenan Fellow Jennifer Spivey, a Columbus County high school teacher, learns how to clone endangered Venus flytraps in lab at Southeastern Community College with the help of a mentor, Teresa Lengner, a lab technician and tissue culturalist.