Leaders from across eastern North Carolina came together for the Vision 2023 event hosted by NC East Alliance at the East Carolina Heart Institute on the Brody School of Medicine campus on Jan. 13 to collaborate on workforce development solutions for the region.

Titled “The Power of Possibility: Envisioning the Future of Rural Regional STEM Education,” the event focused on education and job training for the next generation of regional leaders. This served as the first planning meeting for the STEM East Network which aims to improve education, professional learning, workforce development and economic development in the East.

Dr. Michael Waldrum, chief executive officer at ECU Health and dean of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, is an NC East Alliance Executive Board member and said he believes the health system’s partnership with NC East Alliance is crucial to advancing the mission of ECU Health and the Brody School of Medicine.

ECU Health CEO Dr. Michael Waldrum prepares to speak during the Vision 2023 event hosted by NC East Alliance.

“I’ve been on economic development company boards for over 25 years, and I always say if you really want to improve the health and well-being of a community, you have to drive economic development and if you want to drive economic development, you have to educate people,” Dr. Waldrum said. “It’s really a global perspective – regional transformation and promoting communities involves creating economic opportunities, educating future generations and providing great health care services.”

The event had representation from 29 school systems and 14 community colleges from across eastern North Carolina and the morning session centered on creating an “Industry in School” Alliance that brings together school districts, community colleges and industry in a collaboration designed to bolster the region’s workforce.

Mark Hamblin, chairman of the NC East Alliance, said this new initiative is an important next step for the organization and the region as a whole.

“A couple years ago we were wondering what was next for this organization and when we came together to develop this initiative, it made so much sense because a regional approach is so important to all of us,” Hamblin said.

The STEM East Network steering committee will develop regional solutions to help educators become transformative stakeholders in the regional economy. This will include training educators, from elementary school through college, to better understand the industry and workforce needs of the region. As a result, students will have an increased awareness of jobs available in the region.

A key vision for the program is to keep high school graduates in the region for work and further education while the ultimate goal is to encourage eastern North Carolina’s homegrown workforce to stay and serve in communities across the region.

Dr. Waldrum said for rural health care specifically, this initiative is much needed to develop a strong workforce of future regional leaders.

“In health care we need a strong workforce,” Dr. Waldrum said. “Before the pandemic, workforce was a major issue with massive shortages on technicians, nurses and physicians primarily in rural communities. So we focused on how we could recruit and retain our workforce and provide access to care for a vibrant, rural community. Having a group like this come together and help us in that sector with STEM education and economic development is something that I really want to thank everyone here for making happen.”

Forward thinking and grassroots efforts are helping shape a better future for eastern North Carolina and working together is the best way to impact the region far and wide. ECU Health is excited to partner with industry leaders and elected officials, joining forces on regional initiatives like the STEM East Network to promote positive change in the communities we serve.

A group gathers to talk during the Vision 2023 event hosted by NC East Alliance.
Attendees listen to a presenter during the Vision 2023 event hosted by NC East Alliance.
Mark Dunn listens to a presenter during the Vision 2023 event hosted by NC East Alliance.