RALEIGH (Nov. 18, 2019) – Kevin Howell equates it with winning a national championship: The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) recognized NC State University this month with its Economic Engagement Connections Award – its top honor for economic engagement.
“I see this work every day,” Howell, NC State’s Vice Chancellor for External Affairs, Partnerships and Economic Development, told an on-campus conference this week.
“This is what we’re about – thinking and doing, and helping all our partners across the state of North Carolina.”
The conference focused not on celebrating, but on how NC State can improve its engagement with all 100 North Carolina counties, where it already has a presence through its Cooperative Extension Service.
Asked during a panel discussion at the APLU conference in San Diego how to engage with communities, Leslie Boney, NC State’s Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement, replied: “You have to show up. You have to put in the time. And you have to be willing to listen.”
And listening was a prominent theme in the discussion. Universities already have a history of providing what they think communities need, said NC State Provost Warwick Arden.
“Really what this is about is working together to find out what they truly need from us,” Arden said.
The conference showcased three efforts NC State highlighted in its application for the APLU award:
• The NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic, which started with nine students in 2015 and will have nearly 200 in January. The program places students at HQ Raleigh, a co-working space in downtown Raleigh where they partner with real businesses at various stages, including Jubala, Pendo, Kane Realty and Kontoor Brands Inc. (formerly the jeanswear division of VF Corp.).
“We’re creating these beneficial collisions with our students by putting them in the same room … and giving them the tools to succeed,” said Lewis Sheats, Assistant Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship.
• The Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC), which started in 2007 with $40 million in backing from the Golden LEAF Foundation to train workers for the Triangle’s rapidly growing biopharmaceutical industry.
BTEC works in manufacturing process development, and industry workers can take short courses for updates in specific processes, including gene therapy. Students regularly discuss how drugs like Humira are produced from genetically engineered “CHO” (Chinese Hamster Ovary) cells, said Executive Director Gary Gilleskie.
With a bachelor’s degree in biology, Amanda Walter came to BTEC for a master’s degree and a change in career – and said it gave her confidence to perform in a highly competitive industry.
“It really gave me the freedom to fail outside of work, without feeling that pressure,” she said.
Walter still takes short courses at BTEC and has been selected to work on a Merck vaccine-development team. “It’s really exciting,” she said. “I’m on the cutting edge of technology.”
• The Northeast Leadership Academy (NELA) trains teachers in Northeastern North Carolina to become principals and turn around historically low-performing schools.
“It takes more than a village – it takes a land-grant university,” said Director Bonnie Fusarelli, noting how Judge Howard Manning Jr. once said Halifax County schools were committing “academic genocide.”
A highly effective principal can raise a school’s education levels by 2-7 months of learning in a single year, she said.
Matt Bristow-Smith, the 2019 NC Principal of the Year, spent 16 years as a classroom teacher before he became a principal through NELA seven years ago. Edgecombe County had five superintendents in just seven years, he said, but is now hiring highly effective teachers and NELA alums as principals.
“We’re not the same county that we were, and we’re not the same county that we’re going to be,” he said. “That’s thanks to NC State.”
OTHER DISCUSSION focused on expanding the role of the Extension Service, especially in rapidly growing urban areas.
Rather than focus on a rural-urban divide, Kristin Feierabend, the Area Agent for Extension Urban Programs, emphasized the interdependence of urban and rural communities.
“We are highly interconnected in terms of our food systems, our economy, our environment,” she said.
Others focused on the challenges to simple awareness of the many, many ways NC State connects with its state.
Tim Peeler of University Communications described a project to create an online, clickable map that will outline how NC State connects with every single county, whether through enrolled students, alumni, research farms or other projects.
“There’s no lack of eagerness, we’ve found on this campus,” declared Janice Odom, Director of the NC State Caldwell Fellows. “But helping those people find each other is one of the things we need to do.”