Kenan Fellows Program Awarded Dogwood Health Trust Grant to Advance Workforce Education in Western NC

RALEIGH, N.C. – N.C. State University’s Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership, a statewide collaborative that is leading transformation in education and advancing local workforce development, announced today that it has received a $25,000 grant from the Dogwood Health Trust to launch the Western NC pilot of STEMwork, an innovative new professional development program for K-12 educators.

“The path towards a good job starts when a person is very young, in the classroom. When the teachers in our school systems are knowledgeable about real local jobs and companies, our students are educated in a manner that allows them to imagine a future for themselves, one where they can live, learn, earn and thrive in the community where they are growing up,” said Sarah Thompson, executive director of the Southwestern Commission and Dogwood board member.

STEMwork grows out of the need to close the skills gap that many North Carolina STEM industries encounter. A North Carolina Department of Commerce survey found that almost 60 percent of the state’s STEM-related industries report struggling to find enough qualified candidates to fill open positions. This problem can be traced to a lack of skilled workers moving into the STEM career pipeline. STEMwork gives educators the tools they need to establish and sustain education–business partnerships with local STEM employers. These partnerships are critical in preparing students for STEM careers while offering local businesses the opportunity to foster their next generation of talent.

“STEMwork addresses a clear need that crosses two of our four Strategic Priority areas – Education and Economic Opportunity,” said William Buster, senior vice president of impact at Dogwood Health Trust. (Dogwood’s other two priority areas are Housing and Health & Wellness.)  “This program was attractive to us because it provides a double benefit for young people. First, it gives teachers the knowledge and power to create an engaging and relevant learning experience. Second, it offers the promise of meaningful and satisfying employment for students right here in our region once they have completed school. We are eager to see STEMwork’s impact.”

“The Kenan Fellows Program has a 20-year history of bringing together teacher leaders and STEM professionals. STEMwork allows us to leverage of our network of over 500 alumni in order to scale our mission in ways that are sustainable and equitable across the state,” said Elaine Franklin, director of the Kenan Fellows Program. “We are grateful for supporters like the Dogwood Health Trust, which recognizes the role that workforce development plays in the health and well-being of a community.”

STEMwork is a year-long blended (online and offline) professional development program which includes eight online asynchronous sessions, industry visits, and meet-ups with facilitators and their team members. As part of the program, teachers will go into local industries where they will learn about the variety of STEM jobs that are available in their local community. With the guidance of a facilitator trained by the Kenan Fellows Program, the teachers will learn how to use this knowledge to breathe new life into the subjects they teach. Upon completion, the teachers will have developed a one-of-a-kind Project-Based Learning (PBL) unit that can be implemented in their classrooms, and shared with colleagues. Research on PBL has shown the approach to yield numerous benefits, particularly in terms of student engagement and building competencies essential to college and career readiness.

Thanks to the Dogwood Health Trust, the Kenan Fellows Program is able to offer the program to 22 teachers in Western NC, which is only one of two regions in the state selected for the 2020-21 pilot. Teachers participating in the pilot will attend for free and receive a $200 stipend to support the implementation of their PBL unit. A variety of local industries are participating in virtual and in-person site visits including Team Industries, TekTone, Nantahala Outdoor Center, Biltmore Farms, Baxter Healthcare, ABB and Conserving Carolina;