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Perspective | Kenan Fellows program leading the way on STEM professional development

Welcome to our monthly feature on EducationNC called the NC STEM ScoreCard, written in partnership with the NC Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center (SMT) and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

Last month, we examined the new NC Teaching Fellows program. To dive into more of our past STEM ScoreCard topics, take a look here.

Strategic investments and innovations are essential for developing teacher quality, PK-12 student achievement, and more broadly for promoting STEM literacy in North Carolina. This edition of the NC STEM ScoreCard continues our focus on specific programs supported by public and private dollars that are strategic investments in improving the quality and impact of STEM teachers in North Carolina. One of those investments is in the well-respected Kenan Fellows Program, which is the focus of this edition of the NC STEM ScoreCard.

The goal of the NC STEM ScoreCard is to build broader awareness of how P-20 STEM* education is being nurtured across urban and rural North Carolina and the impact on the well-being of our citizens and state.

*Note: STEM here is an acronym for Strategies That Engage Minds

Three key questions framing this goal are:

  1. In what ways does the state directly invest in programming and innovations that promote STEM learning?
  2. In what ways are significant philanthropies and other organizations supporting STEM education and learning in North Carolina?
  3. What measurable impacts are North Carolina realizing from its strategic investments?

Kenan Fellows

Founded in 2000, the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership addresses the critical need for high-quality professional development for educators and is the largest STEM-focused teacher leadership program in North Carolina. The Kenan Fellows Program (KFP) is a signature program of the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology, & Science at NC State University.

Approximately 25 to 50 outstanding K-12 teachers from across the state are selected annually for this year-long program. Key components of the KFP are a three-week summer internship with a mentor in a research or applied STEM setting, and 80 hours of professional development that builds leadership capacity and promotes curricular design bridging STEM at work with STEM at school.

Mission and vision

The mission of the Kenan Fellows Program is to advance K-12 STEM education by providing educators with relevant, real-world professional learning and leadership development, through innovative collaborations with partners committed to 21st century education and workforce preparation. Kenan Fellows are to serve as a catalyst of change, driving innovations in STEM education that inspire future generations of great inventors, leaders, and thinkers.


The KFP was established from a community effort to address the retention of effective math and science teachers in the Research Triangle region. Today, the Kenan Fellows Program reaches across North Carolina and is nationally recognized as a model for industry-education partnerships to introduce STEM workforce development across subjects for all K-12 educators.


The Kenan Fellows Program celebrates educators as professionals and utilizes their expertise through partnerships with North Carolina’s industries, universities, and community colleges to enrich learning opportunities for all stakeholders. These mutually beneficial collaborations result in more interested and engaged P-12 students whose eventual career paths can be impacted by a greater understanding of the skills required to be successful.


Kenan Fellows develop strong communication and advocacy skills. They engage with other educators, community leaders, and policymakers to promote high-quality instruction in our schools. Today, there are more than 470 Kenan Fellows across North Carolina and beyond as shown in the graphic below.

Courtesy of the Kenan Fellows Program

Program impact on Kenan Fellows teacher

After completing the formal portion of the program, Kenan Fellows achieve more leadership positions in their schools, districts, and communities. An extensive external evaluation of the program was conducted in 2018. The self-reported survey of Kenan Fellows Program completers are as follows:

  • 100% of Fellows said the program made them a better teacher.
  • 100% of Fellows said they now the skills to work with business leaders and other stakeholders.
  • 98% of students said a Kenan Fellow got them more interested in careers in math and science.
  • 98% of Fellows said they now have the knowledge and skills to be a mentor for new teachers.
  • 97% of Fellows said networking with North Carolina teachers improved their teaching and leadership skills.
  • 90% of Fellows remain in education five years after completing the program.

Impact on other teachers

The Kenan Fellows Program is committed to extending the impact of the program beyond the teachers accepted as Fellows into the program. Developing Fellows’ teacher leadership skills is of central importance, which manifests in several difference ways. In 2017, the most recent year in which verifiable data are available, Kenan Fellows teachers provided 7,250 total hours of professional development (PD) to other educators. The types of PD and the hours Kenan Fellows devoted to each category is shown in the graph below.

The Journal of Interdisciplinary Teacher Leadership

In 2016, The Kenan Fellows program launched The Journal of Interdisciplinary Teacher Leadership which publishes original work on research, best practices, professional learning, and leadership in K-12 education. Kenan Fellows are responsible for virtually all phases of solicitation for manuscripts, the review process, and journal production. The peer-reviewed journal offers educators the opportunity to share effective instructional strategies across the curriculum as well as ways to build leadership capacity to shape teacher voice in and beyond the classroom.

The Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership has, to date, published four issues of its scholarly journal for K-12 educators, administrators, and researchers of all disciplines. The primary focus of the journal is on the interdisciplinary nature of STEM.

To read the latest issue, visit the archives.

Some of the awards and accomplishments of Kenan Fellows Program completers are:

  • Named 2019, 2017, and 2016 STEM Higher Education Partner of the Year by STEM RTP.
  • Winner of the 2010 Partnership Award by the NC Science, Mathematics  and Technology Education Center.
  • Seven Kenan Fellows are winners of the  $175,000 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Science & Mathematics Teachers.
  • Seven Kenan Fellows have won the Outstanding Educator Award in Science,  Mathematics and Technology Education presented by the NC Science, Mathematics  and Technology Education Center.
  • Four Kenan Fellows have received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
  • Three Kenan Fellows have been selected  for the prestigious national Albert Einstein Distinguished Educators Fellowship.
  • Two Kenan Fellows have helped produce animated lessons for TED-Ed, an online global initiative of TED, the nonprofit famous for its TED Talks.

For more complete information about the Kenan Fellows Program, click here.

Questions for maximizing this strategic investment in STEM teacher quality in North Carolina

1. Given the investment made in the KFP, in what ways might the state of North Carolina increase their support to better leverage Kenan Fellows teachers to advance the knowledge and skills of other teachers?

2. The KFP has verified very positive impacts on teachers. What evidence might be gathered about the impact on the businesses, industries, and/or university researchers with whom Kenan Fellows collaborate? 

3. How might some of the “lessons learned” in the Kenan Fellows Program be transferred into the undergraduate or graduate teacher education programs across that state?

Thanks to Dr. Elaine Franklin, director of the Kenan Fellows Program, for her assistance with this article.

Charles Coble

Charles R. Coble, co-founder & partner of Teacher Preparation Analytics, was Professor of Science Education for 23 years and for 13 years Dean of the School of Education at East Carolina University.