RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network Pre-College Program (MSEN) at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, part of the NC State College of Education, has been awarded a $20,000 gift from technology company Lenovo as part of their Black Leaders Achieving Success in Technology (BLAST) program.
“We have a STEM focus inside Lenovo from the philanthropic arm of the [Lenovo] Foundation,” said Jonathan Wilkins, a former MSEN student and supplier diversity program manager for general procurement programs at Lenovo. “We wanted to be focused on STEM education. I said, ‘What better organization than MSEN, who sits in our backyard at NC State, a highly technical school, one of the best engineering schools in the country? They’re focused on the population of BLAST. That is our population, so why would we not want to partner with the organization who’s doing great work to support those minority students?’”
Founded in 2014, BLAST is an employee resource group (ERG) at Lenovo, made up of more than 300 African American employees across North America who participate in workshop and mentoring activities as well as growing and promoting Lenovo’s supplier diversity program. With their focus on education, enlightenment, networking and service, BLAST’s strategic goals align with MSEN’s work.
“Our ERG does all kinds of mentorship opportunities with young people, with those particular college students that are attending HBCUs, as well as other universities, in an effort to become a segue and a pipeline to introduce talent to this particular tech world and, more specifically, STEM technology,” said David Reaves, senior inside sales representative for the APOS Services Team at Lenovo. “Jonathan’s roots with MSEN kind of run deep, and it was really cool that we got a chance to connect and partner once again. Jonathan was able to kind of really provide for us a real understanding of the work that MSEN is doing and has done…so it was a no brainer in that regard.”
MSEN is a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) enrichment program that recruits students from underserved populations in grades 6-12 and provides them with experiences that will equip them to attend a four-year college/university to pursue majors in STEM fields. One of four public university campuses across North Carolina that offers this program, the NC State chapter partners with school districts and schools in northeastern and central North Carolina. The program includes exposure to STEM careers, information about college admissions and scholarship, STEM enrichment courses and opportunities to participate in local and state competitions.
Wilkins is an MSEN alumni who not only participated as a student all four years of his high school career but also volunteered as a counselor for their Saturday Academy while he was an NC State student.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do in college or in life,” said Wilkins. “I knew I had a high aptitude for math and science, so I kind of knew I wanted to be in the STEM field in some way, but I didn’t know which direction. MSEN really helped to direct my path down the road of civil engineering.”
Lenovo’s partnership will support MSEN both financially and with human capital. Through Lenovo’s financial gift, MSEN will be able to recognize and celebrate their current students as well as support low-income students who need financial assistance and sponsorship to participate in their programs. Additionally, BLAST members will support MSEN programs and events by serving as mentors, judges, tutors and facilitators.
“I’m just hoping that a lot of the members from BLAST will really connect with our students; they’ll become role models for our students,” said Braska Williams, director of MSEN at NC State. “I’m hopeful too that it does turn out to be a long-term partnership. The financial benefits are great, but having people who are coming alongside us and really supporting our program will make a huge difference as well.”
The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation brings together researchers, practitioners and policymakers to lead the transition to next-generation education systems that will prepare students for success in the digital-age world. It conducts research, develops educational resources, provides professional development programs for educators, advocates to improve teaching and learning, and helps inform policymaking. The Friday Institute is a part of the NC State College of Education. Visit fi.ncsu.edu to learn more.