Editor’s note:Karl Rectanus is leader of N.C. STEM (Science, Technology, Education, Math) Community Collaborative.

By Karl Rectanus, Special to Local Tech Wire

RALEIGH, N.C. – More than 100 national and state leaders including North Carolina Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, met Friday for Community Collaborative’s “Turning STEM Conversations into Action: Collaborative Networks Designed for Sustainability” event at the William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus.

NC STEM’s Collaborative Visioning Process has gained recognition as well as funding support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation over the past months for its innovative approach to community engagement in key education issues, and a cross-sector group of experts and community leaders from North Carolina and other states came together to explore the design of collaborative networks.

Over the last 50 years, North Carolina has been a leading state in relating economic development in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to its public education system.

The business/education interconnection began in 1959 with the conceptualizing and the launching of Research Triangle Park – a 7,000-plus-acre research park that today employs 45,000 people in technology, biotechnology, pharmaceutical and other STEM industries.

Companies such as IBM, GE, Cisco, Biogen, GlaxoSmithKline combine their presences in Research Triangle Park with government and public sector research organizations like the EPA and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

The STEM economy has spread throughout North Carolina over the last five decades.

Companies such as SAS, Microsoft, Google, Apple, NetApp, EMC, Syngenta, Esai, RF Micro, Red Hat and Spirit Aerosystems have either incubated their entire company or developed major presences in every region of the state. Public-and university-based health care has grown in both size and stature with Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University building a tradition of excellence in medical research and health care and combining to employ tens of thousands of people.

North Carolina’s success in the STEM economy has been due in part to bringing people together from different perspectives with a variety of competencies and collaborating to move toward a common goal. Business leaders bring the rigorous analytics and acumen of the for profit world; policy makers bring knowledge of the process of law making and the knowledge of building a campaign; educators bring the knowledge of teaching and learning; and community advocates bring a deep understanding of the needs of all those in the community.

We all need to work as a system to drive the kind of advances and change like we saw with Research Triangle Park. It’s time for North Carolina to bring its long history and deep expertise in collaboration to the reality of today’s and tomorrow’s world.

Sixty percent of the new jobs the U.S. will produce in the coming decades will require at least some competency in the fields of STEM. This is vastly different from the majority manufacturing economy we are exiting. North Carolina already has suffered from this transition.

Another 70,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in the last year in addition to the 300,000 that disappeared earlier in this decade. We have to prepare all our children for success in this new world and that will require fundamental change in the way we educate our children.

This change will not come from one institution or government entity/program. This change needs to happen community by community with advocacy from across business, education, economic development, and policy makers. Facilitating the building of these community-by-community collaboratives is the focus of the NC STEM Community Collaborative.

NC STEM, using seed funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and organizational support and funding from MCNC, will provide a structured process for communities to come together, cross sector in a strong network that will plan how to address the economic opportunities in their community, and relate them to their children.

NC STEM will provide communities across the state with the knowledge to build sustainable, perpetual collaboratives; the STEM expertise to produce real-world STEM examples and bring them to the student to enrich their interest and understanding of STEM subjects; and the facilitation to produce cogent, realistic plans to relate the community’s economy with education which the community implements and maintains.

The answer is different in every community and it’s personalized. It looks different in Davie County and/or Lenoir County than it does in the 11-county BRAC region around Fayetteville that will grow substantially with the influx additional military presence and the related advanced technical jobs.

However, the common factors across these communities are:

• Rigorous, relevant, experiential STEM education for our children.
• Preparation for any job in the STEM economy whether it requires an advanced degree or training in specific skill on a specific device to work on a modern automobile or to troubleshoot an electrical outage.
• Deep involvement by all sectors of a community to provide an opportunity for every child in the community.

Davie County, Lenoir County, and the BRAC region have begun the NC STEM journey.

The state, through the leadership of Gov. Bev Perdue, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, the General Assembly, and the many advisors within the recently passed JOBS Commission Bill, will watch this effort and help it to replicate. Scaling NC STEM based on the success of these first three communities and the inspection of the state will be the next step.

(Note: According to the N.C. Senate Democratic Caucus web site, the JOBS Commission “will create a partnership between public schools, community colleges, and private businesses to ensure the proper educational curriculum is in place for students to maximize their employment potential upon graduation. In particular, the Commission will work with both public and private programs focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”)