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Support provided by Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) and the Eastern North Carolina (ENC) Tech Bridge to local educators will help shape lesson plans that prepare students for STEM-related occupations, including the aviation-focused careers found at the aircraft maintenance depot.
FRCE and the ENC Tech Bridge hosted two Havelock teachers who worked for six weeks during July and August. As part of the STEM East Industry in Schools initiative, Whitney Hernandez, a teacher at Roger Bell New Tech Academy, and Misty Guthrie, a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teacher at Tucker Creek Middle School, learned about the varied career opportunities available at FRCE. They used this knowledge to develop a workshop and model lesson plans focused on training educators about aviation career pathways in eastern North Carolina.
FRCE expects the investment in curriculum development to pay off as today’s students join tomorrow’s technical workforce.
“This is a win for FRC East because we’re helping to build our future workforce,” said Randall Lewis, FRCE Advanced Technologies and Innovation team lead. “If we can get kids excited about aviation and the types of jobs we do here, and the schools give them the skills and tools they need to pursue these opportunities, then chances are good they could have a successful career here at FRC East.”
Guthrie and Hernandez presented their findings to more than 20 teachers from a number of eastern North Carolina school districts who attended the STEM East Aviation Sciences Leadership Institute at Craven Community College’s Havelock Campus Aug. 2-3. The STEM East Network connects educators with employers through a network of partnerships, with the goal of building a workforce that will meet the current and future needs of the labor market. Industry in Schools provides an opportunity for teachers to engage with regional industry to design instructional programming and classroom activities that align with curriculum standards.
The Eastern North Carolina Tech Bridge coordinated the efforts of the STEM East Network, the Craven 100 Alliance and Fleet Readiness Center East to give the teachers a meaningful opportunity to create an industry-based curriculum suitable for students from elementary to high school. Event organizers said emphasizing STEM skills in local schools is not just good for the students, but for the area economy as well.
“Even though there are lots of technical opportunities in the area, we still live in a relatively small community,” said Jamaine Clemmons, director of the ENC Tech Bridge. “As much talent as we can grow locally and retain here, the better we’re going to be from a workforce perspective and the better we will be able to meet the needs of tomorrow’s warfighters.”
Another advantage to including STEM-based lessons is that it broadens the students’ options for pursuing career training after high school, said Bruce Middleton, executive director of the STEM East Network.
“We’ve lived in a culture for many years that believed students had to go to a four-year university in order to be successful,” Middleton said. “We need to broaden that conversation to include two-year community colleges or even credentialing programs that could prepare students for well-paying jobs in the region without having to go to college.”
Communities with strong STEM-focused educational systems are also attractive targets for technical industries that are looking to relocate, according to Jeff Wood, Craven County Economic Development director and executive director of the Craven 100 Alliance.
“I have site selectors who ask us what kind of workforce training we have all the way back into middle school,” Wood said. “So to be able to say we have programs like this with our largest industrial employer is a fantastic selling point for businesses that are considering moving to our area.”
The teachers said the goal behind their project is to help other educators make STEM subjects and technical careers at FRCE accessible to all their students.
“The model lessons that we used to show teachers how to integrate industry into the core curriculum classes included a variety of activities like making gliders or wiring helicopters with lights, so that teachers could see how they could incorporate industrial jobs into their specific curriculum,” said Guthrie. “One of our goals was to help teachers understand their impact on the local workforce and how to take the ideas we shared and scale them up to challenge high school students, or scale them down so the concepts do not overwhelm elementary school students. Our focus was to show the teachers in the Eastern region that this is an attainable and valuable goal.”
Educators are realizing that elementary school is an ideal time to start students thinking about their future careers, said Michelle Smith, FRCE’s K-12 STEM education outreach coordinator and a former middle school teacher.
“Kids often walk into sixth grade convinced that they’re bad at school and they’re not going to go far,” Smith said. “That’s why it’s too late to wait until middle school to talk about careers, especially technical careers that may require math and science, because they may already have decided they don’t have those skills. If we can get elementary school kids feeling excited and capable about math and science, maybe they’ll consider a technical path when it’s time to choose a career.”
Hernandez agreed, noting that students should be able to transition from school into high-paying technical careers without following the traditional pipelines that lead straight to four-year colleges and universities.
“The fact is FRCE needs mechanics and other industrial trade workers, and there are artisans there who make more money in a year than many people with four-year degrees,” added Hernandez. “Our focus is to create a pathway that all of our students can follow and make a good living right here at home if that’s what they want to do.”
The Aviation Sciences Leadership Institute also included tours of FRCE, aviation areas at the Craven Community College Havelock campus, and the North Carolina State University Mechanical Engineering System’s satellite campus. During these tours, educators learned how to integrate aviation and aviation maintenance topics into their classroom while also learning how students interested in aviation-focused careers can pursue that pathway through post-secondary education.
The teachers said they are confident that their summer experience at FRCE will help some of their students start down a path toward future career opportunities that they might not have otherwise discovered.
“When you think of the growth that FRCE anticipates, my students who have just graduated from fifth grade will be the class of 2030, so where will FRCE be in 2030?” asked Hernandez. “Those students will be entering the workforce or seeking higher education in 2030, so this is one thing that I can do as a fifth-grade teacher to ensure that they are prepared to make smart career choices.”
FRCE plans to continue working closely with area educators to incorporate industry-based lessons into school curriculum. According to Lewis, this strategy is expected to equip students with the skills they will need to compete for technical jobs close to home, and that’s good news for FRCE.
“This creates a win-win situation because the students can find good jobs at FRC East, and they are more likely to make their careers here if they are from the local area,” Lewis said. “So the student who is interested in aviation or likes math today could have a great career at FRC East in the future, and we get to be a part of that.”
FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.
John Olmstead, Fleet Readiness Center East Public Affairs Officer
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