Local schools benefit from NSF grant

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 14, 2006

WELDON – A $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation is empowering East Carolina University to assist public schools focus on business related science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Ernie Marshburn, Director of Strategic Initiatives, a division of research and graduate studies at ECU, was in Weldon at Halifax Community College Wednesday to address local educators who were attending the Roanoke Valley Leadership Conference.

Marshburn detailed the aim of the three year initiative, which is designed to help rural school systems prepare high school students to meet growing demands for technologically skilled workers.

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&uot;Mathematics and information technology skills are essential in today’s business climate,&uot; Marshburn said. &uot;But typical classroom instruction does not provide students with enough real-world business experiences that will give them a competitive advantage in the STEM career workforce.&uot;

Northampton County Superintendent Dr. Kathi H. Gibson, who was in attendance at the event along with Weldon City Schools Superintendent Dr. Elie Bracy III, said the initiative will be focused more on educators instead of students.

&uot;This project is geared toward ensuring our educators adopt a new way of thinking,&uot; Gibson said. &uot;It will encourage them to focus less on teaching and more on learning.&uot;

Gibson said that while she expects all students in Northampton County to benefit from the new curriculum models, the primary target will be secondary students.

&uot;We are always looking to broaden our curriculum,&uot; Gibson explained. &uot;Our students will be able to get to the next degree in terms of learning.&uot;

Marsburn was joined for the presentation by Richard Dell, President of Advanced Vehicle Research Center of North Carolina, John Parker of the New Schools Program and Ron Preston, Chair of the Division of Research and Graduate Studies at ECU.

Dell spoke about the gap that exists between classroom work and applied learning in the business world.

&uot;I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people in the automotive field talk about their school days,&uot; Dell said. &uot;They always comment about how they never thought they would see geometry or fractions again once they graduated. They were wrong.&uot;

More than 30 local businesses have signed on to help the educators develop realistic business related situations and problems, including Nucor Steel of Hertford County, Roanoke Electric Cooperative and First Citizens Bank.

As many as 70 high school teachers and students from 12 school districts in Northeastern North Carolina will participate in the project during the three-year grant.

Along with Northampton and Hertford, Halifax, Warren, Edgecombe, Beaufort, Martin, Nash and Washington counties are also participating in the grant.

Marshburn said it is the involvement of the business community that really gives the grant its potential.

&uot;There are mathematical formulas that drive business decisions,&uot; Marshburn explained. &uot;If students can understand how to apply math in the real world and connect it with businesses in their communities, it will help them appreciate the mathematical concepts.&uot;

&uot;We want our students to see math and science as more than a thing or a phenomenon,&uot; Gibson said. &uot;We want them to have a rigorous, college preparing experience.&uot;