AWARD YEAR: 2017
University of North Carolina-Wilmington
Director: Sue Kezios, Ph.D.
Director of Youth Programs
Project: I-40 E.A.S.T.
I-40 E.A.S.T. is a two year project engaging students from rural communities in southeastern North Carolina in lab-based scientific investigations, career exploration, public presentations, planning for community development, and STEM entrepreneurship. These activities leverage the resources found in the students home counties and help them see the potential their communities offer for future STEM careers. This project was developed in response to "rural brain drain” that leads to outmigration of the regions brightest and best students to other areas where their STEM aspirations are matched with opportunities. The goals of the I-40 E.A.S.T. project are (1) to cultivate student understanding of the STEM careers potential in their home counties and (2) to encourage students to engage in STEM-based planning for future development of their home counties. During Year 1 of the project students participate in nine laboratory investigations led by UNCW STEM graduate students. Secondary teachers from the counties serve as program assistants while engaging in professional STEM learning. Students finish year one by attending a summer community planning institute at UNCW focused on civil engineering and regional development. During Year 2 of the project students have a chance to explain their STEM knowledge when they create and host interactive exhibits at three county agricultural festivals featuring a resource from the region. Students also participate in a Careers Corridor program involving field trips to four different regional STEM employers for career mentoring and exploration. Students finish the project by attending a summer entrepreneurship institute where they work in teams to propose a small STEM business that leverages a resource from their county.