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ETI introduces high school students in Robeson county to high-paying and secure math, science, technology and engineering career opportunities.

In 2020, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA directs the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) to establish and maintain a Defense Civilian Training Corps (DCTC) program at any accredited civilian educational institution authorized to grant baccalaureate degrees. The program’s purpose is to establish a civilian training corps to to target critical skill gaps that prepare students for public service in Department of Defense (DoD) occupations.

The Department of Defense (DoD) awarded NC State University Industry Expansion Solutions (IES) North Carolina Defense Industry Diversification Initiative (NCDIDI) client, Emerging Technology Institute (ETI), with a 1.9 million dollar contract under the Defense Civilian Training Corps program. This funding will launch the pilot phase of a Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) initiative in Robeson County. STEM skills are essential for success in today’s competitive job market. Only 20% of Americans graduate from high school prepared for college-level math and science courses. This means millions of American high school students will miss out on valuable opportunities for well-paying, secure career paths.

ETI was founded in Red Springs, North Carolina and primarily focuses on developing revolutionary solutions for the battlefield, law enforcement, and educational practitioners. “The people working at ETI see it as more than just a business – it’s an economic development project,” said the founder and president of ETI, James Freeman. “Our organization aims to help local businesses and the communities we live in.” This community-driven ethos gave way to providing educational assistance to high school students in Robeson county. 

In a rural county like Robeson, with 27.1% of its residents living at or below the poverty line, guiding young people toward a STEM career path is important for the community. According to the United States Department of Education, students who focus on math, science, and technology courses while in high school earned higher median annual wages than students who did not.

As a kid’s flag football coach, Freeman says he has experienced how poverty impacts society’s most vulnerable. “Living in rural North Carolina gave me an addiction to figuring out how to serve,” Freeman reflects. “It’s hard to look around and see poverty and not want to do something to help improve the situation of the people in our community. Our hope with this program is to introduce the young people of Robeson to non-traditional high-paying and secure career fields.”

With the funding they’ve received, Freeman and ETI are planning on constructing a comprehensive, hands-on STEM project with several phases. Freeman announced, “We’ll develop a technology tool kit and students will be directed to go online to a learning platform that supports the program. Through this program, they will learn how to activate and engage with the technology in the kit.” Once the students become efficient at dealing with the technology in the kit, they’ll be rated and invited to ETI to participate in a competition that encompasses all the elements they learned from the kit. The competition winners will be given scholarships and introduced to other STEM-related programs and opportunities. “We’re teaching students new technologies outside the current standard high school curriculum,” Freeman explains.

ETI’s ambitions for the STEM program extend far beyond the borders of Robeson county after the pilot year ends. “I’m excited because this is a pilot program, but it’s also a national recruitment strategy proposed by Congress,” states Freeman. “If everything goes right, we can go national with this program and partner with more institutions to reach students across the country. There’s a way to take this from the poorest county in North Carolina and spread a successful model throughout the United States.”