By WRAL Tech Wire STEM News

KINSTON, N.C. – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) efforts continue growing in eastern North Carolina.

Last week, the Golden LEAF Foundation and Spirit AeroSystems presented more than $350,000 to STEM East during the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce’s Business after Hours event held at the Spirit Composite Center of Excellence at the Global TransPark.

Golden LEAF provided $350,000. Spirit provided $3,250.

Both checks were presented to the North Carolina Eastern Region (NCER) to help promote STEM among public school students in this region of the state.

The Lenoir County STEM chapter was conceived two years ago by local leaders working with the NC STEM Community Collaborative. NC STEM presented $50,000 to STEM East in July 2010 as an investment towards developing STEM education in their community. STEM East also has received other pledges of cash and in-kind investments from local businesses, nonprofits and other investors in the area.

The Golden LEAF money will go toward establishing four seventh-grade “math modules” in four middle schools – one school in each of the counties served will see a module. The idea is to propel more students into taking algebra courses in the eighth grade.

Dan Gerlach, president of Golden LEAF, told the Kinston Free Press that representatives of many manufacturing-based businesses, especially aerospace, see algebra and other math skills as critical for working in those industries. He said STEM East received the grant in part because officials had consulted with business leaders to learn what types of skills they look for in workers.

“(We) saw the robust participation you have in the business community,” Gerlach was quoted by the Free Press.

Mark Ezzell, spokesman for NC STEM, said this grant is the culmination of many years of hard work on the part of Lenoir County citizens, including educators, business leaders and others in the community.

“STEM East’s success shows other communities that they too can partner with public and private partners to make positive changes to their education system and economic outlook,” Ezzell said.

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(Editor’s Note: ENCToday.com contributed to this report)