RALEIGH - The NC Community College System is the recipient of a 2019-20 Innovation of the Year Award for a program that promotes science careers by connecting middle school students to community colleges.
The award, from the international nonprofit League for Innovation in the Community College, recognized the Effective Authentic Science Events, or EASE, program. The program was developed by Erin Bingham and Tanya McGhee of BioNetwork, the life science training initiative of the NC Community College System.
The EASE program offers middle school students a day on a community college campus, where they participate in inquiry-based science and learn about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The program has served more than 5,000 students across North Carolina during the past four years.
The program's events are aimed at giving students a taste of the college environment and igniting interest in STEM professions.
"The NC Community College System is honored to have the EASE program recognized by the League for Innovation," said Maureen Little, vice president of economic development. "We appreciate all opportunities to have young, bright middle school students on our community college campuses participating in activities that assist them in making decisions about their education and future careers. The EASE program clearly demonstrates strong collaborative efforts between our public schools and community colleges."
As part of the program, students are shown a video with a mystery that sets the stage for a science-based project. The activities showcase opportunities for life science careers. Each session closes with the results of the experiment, linking the activity with real-life experiences of people in STEM professions. Students leave the event with the knowledge that a community college education can be the pathway to a STEM career.
The NC Community College System was among more than two dozen recognized across the country. Other winners include: Isothermal Community College, for a partnership with the Mountain Area Health Education Center and St. Luke's Hospital to convert an old hospice facility into a new clinic to train dental assistants; and Wake Technical Community College, for its COVID-19 Task Force and consolidated response plan that implemented remote learning, teaching tools and wraparound digital support services, as well as an Answer Center for students, faculty and staff.
North Carolina's 58 community colleges serve about 700,000 students a year in college-transfer programs, short-term workforce training, high school dual enrollment, career and technical education and adult basic education.