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Wilson College and Friday Institute Team Up to Sponsor STEM Education Program

Front doors of college with Wilson College of Textiles signage above

By Raymond Jones

Delisha Hinton is about as close to being an NC State “lifer” as you can get. 

She earned her bachelor’s degree in textile technology in 2011 and her master’s in education in 2017. She’s performed in a variety of administrative roles since her undergraduate years, including service as a university ambassador. She’s spent the last seven years as associate director for student services at the Wilson College of Textiles. And, as if that weren’t enough, she is also now working on a doctoral degree in textile technology management

The thing she likes best about NC State is the “family feel.” Indeed, her long standing desire to create a welcoming experience for students prepared her for a new role she’ll be taking on this summer. Hinton is one of a number of university personnel who have teamed up to launch a new STEM experience called the TEXplore Summer Enrichment and Saturday Academy Program (TEXplore).

TEXplore has been designed to encourage underrepresented and under-resourced student populations to explore careers in science, technology, engineering or math. TEXplore is somewhat unique, however, in that it targets middle school rather than high school students. 

In addition, the program is specifically recruiting students in counties where the textile industry has historically had a strong presence. In this case, that means Gaston and Catawba Counties. 

The program is being funded by a three-year, $178,000 grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The grant will cover the cost for 30 middle schoolers to attend a week-long STEM immersion program at the Wilson College, with the first session starting this summer. Local teachers from the two participating counties will then conduct periodic Saturday sessions, on-site in those counties, to sustain interest.

Hinton did the exploratory work necessary to secure the Burroughs Wellcome grant. She says staff members from the William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation (Friday Institute), which is located on NC State’s campus, will be heavily involved in program implementation.

Support and leadership of Saturday Academies will be provided by Braska Williams, director of the N.C. Mathematics and Science Education Network Pre-College Program. Evaluation efforts will be led by Callie Edwards, associate director of the institute’s Program Evaluation and Education Research (PEER) Group. Her task is to determine how well the program works, what changes, if any, might be needed, and which features of the program could be most easily adapted by other STEM initiatives. 

“My job,” Hinton says, “is to make sure everything comes together smoothly and implement our first summer program for middle schoolers.” 

Her personal interest in STEM initiatives dates back to the time of her own undergraduate experience, when she observed that minority students were not well represented in a variety of technical fields. She says the problem of underrepresentation did not arise suddenly and will not be solved quickly. However, she believes getting students involved in STEM education at a younger age is a strategy that is sure to pay dividends in the long run.

She acknowledges that one challenge STEM advocates must confront in North Carolina is a lingering misconception that the textile industry has completely moved offshore.  

“Fortunately,” she says, “my work at Wilson College has enabled me to see firsthand just how inaccurate these perceptions are. Our college is thriving. Our professors are widely sought after for their expertise. Our extension services are more than busy providing training opportunities and consulting support. And our graduates are much in demand and highly successful.”

An important “fringe benefit” of TEXplore, Hinton says, is that participants will not only learn more about STEM but about the number and variety of career opportunities within the textile industry itself. 

TEXplore will help to advance the Friday Institute’s mission of enhancing the quality of education for all K-12 students. In addition, top leaders at both Gaston College and Catawba Valley Community College have shown a particular interest in seeing TEXplore succeed. Both colleges recently signed agreements to create a pathway for their students to Wilson College and NC State.

“So,” Hinton says, “another benefit of the Burroughs Wellcome grant is that it will highlight not only the importance of STEM education but – for some students – the benefits of having any post-secondary education at all.”