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Event Held to Spark Interest in STEM Careers

Farmville Central student De'Kevion Mitchell watches as Estefany Chavez, a Pitt County Early College High School student, extracts water from a beaker as part of a lab experiment the two are conducting during "Advanced Manufacturing and STEM Awareness Day” at PCC.

WINTERVILLE—Donning white lab coats and safety glasses, a group of students at Pitt Community College looked on in amazement as a clear liquid their instructor poured into a glass beaker began to immediately boil.

As it bubbled and churned furiously, PCC Biotechnology Instructor Ben Trimpi explained to the students that liquid nitrogen is extremely cold and has a boiling point of -196 degrees Celsius. To demonstrate its rapid freezing ability, he dipped a paper towel into the beaker for just a few moments before taking it out and shattering it into tiny pieces with a simple tap on the table.

While this classroom exercise may have appeared to be a typical experiment in a Walter and Marie Williams Building laboratory at PCC, it was actually part of a program to give Pitt County high school students a closer look at careers dealing with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Organized by PCC and Pitt County Schools, “Advanced Manufacturing and STEM Awareness Day” took place at the college Nov. 17. According to PCC Recruitment and Orientation Specialist John Carrere, “more than 100 students with specialized interests” participated in the event to learn firsthand about a number of STEM careers, including welding, architecture, construction, electronics engineering and biotechnology.

“It’s difficult to accurately convey to high school students what it’s like to develop skills in a college classroom that are needed for success in the working world without them actually being on campus to see it for themselves,” Carrere said. “In this case, seeing truly is believing.

Carrere said hands-on program tours like the one at PCC this month give prospective students a chance to solidify their career pathway plans. It was also an opportunity to connect them with employers ready to hire them as soon as they graduate, he said, adding “a potential high-paying job offer before ever stepping foot in the classroom can provide a lot of motivation to succeed.”

PCC Career Outreach Specialist Rachel Bridgers agreed and said PCC Career Services contacted local employers about participating in the event. Those who did, she said, were matched with the degree programs from which they normally hire graduates.

“The goal of this event was to expose high school students to programs offered at PCC that are specifically geared toward advanced manufacturing and STEM-related careers, while also highlighting the relationship between our programs and our employer partners,” Bridgers said. “Pitt Community College and our local businesses want to show students that they are invested in their futures by providing students with positive exposure to the modern workforce, which is key for closing the skills gap."

Carrere said NC Works Career Coaches and career development coordinators at the county’s six public high schools identified students to participate in the event. He said PCC recruitment team members accompanied the students, including some from the Pitt County Early College High School, to various laboratories and buildings on campus, where they participated in hands-on experiences in the career fields they’re considering.

While some students created personalized ‘fidget spinners’ and toured model homes under construction during their PCC visit, others learned welding basics and potted plants.

“We made sure workplace safety was emphasized, too,” Carrere said. “We equipped students with the personal protective gear they needed for the activities they were taking part in, whether it was lab coats and glasses for those experimenting with liquid nitrogen or welding helmets and heat-resistant jackets for welding activities.”

Carrere said organizers of this year’s event will evaluate its success and use it as a measuring stick for future STEM exploration programs at the college.