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Students get a head start on engineering degrees with STEM Pathways at Johnston Community College

Johnston Community College (JCC) is welcoming 30 rising ninth-graders to its campus this August through a new dual enrollment initiative with the Johnston County Early College Academy (JCECA).

The partnership, entitled STEM Pathways, will take rising freshmen from 14 different Johnston County middle schools down a specially-designed road to secure either an associate in engineering (AE) or associate in science with an engineering concentration degree by the time they graduate high school.

The partnership gives students in the cohort access to collegiate faculty, resources, facilities, student activities, and more. JCC is currently “the only North Carolina community college with an Engineering-Focused STEM Pathway within an innovative high school located on its campus.”

We spoke with Angelin Smith Mejias, a rising ninth-grader, who will start the STEM Pathways program at JCECA in the fall. She loves math and science and has done her own research on engineering careers. She is most excited about the program because she can learn more about the fields that interest her from STEM-focused teachers. Mejias is interested in potentially becoming an architectural designer and an aerospace engineer.

By merging college-level courses with extracurricular options like robotics, STEM camp, internships, research, workshops, and more, JCC hopes students feel involved in engineering through their own academic experience.

“Students accepted to the STEM Pathway at the Early College Academy will thrive with a technology-enriched curriculum designed to activate analytical, critical, and inventive thinking.” — Lance Gooden, department chair of engineering

STEM Pathways has been more than a year in the making and was originally a dream of Rodney Allred, director of college counseling at JCECA, who was looking to expand the school. His office is down the hall from Dawn Dixon, associate vice president at JCC. She says, “We do a lot of thinking about what students will need when they exit in three to five years,” and giving early college students direct access to the college’s engineering program was really important.

The goal of the program is to prepare students with competitive skill sets in a rapidly changing engineering landscape.

What does the manufacturing landscape look like in Johnston County? Dixon lists Grifols, Caterpillar, and OPW as some of the businesses that have engineering technology positions. It was reported by WRAL’s TechWire on June 9 that Grifols is investing $351.6 million to build another facility in Johnston County. It is estimated that 300 additional jobs will be created.

With JCC’s engineering curriculum, students can get a variety of certifications in applied engineering or mechanical engineering, or an associate in engineering. The community college is preparing its students for those local jobs.

“Creating this STEM Pathway was just one way to look at some of the challenges that a community college may have, and leverage our strong partnerships … we have a very strong partnership with Johnston County Public Schools in a creative way that benefits students,” Dixon said.

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.