Just a few months after making a $3 million gift to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to seed an innovative rural student access initiative, Joe and Debbie Gordon got to meet some of the students their generosity directly impacts. In August, the Gordons hosted students from the STEAM program and their families at a reception at their Raleigh home.
The STEAM program, which stands for “Student Transfer Enrollment, Advising and Mentoring,” is an alternative admissions pathway for North Carolina students from rural counties interested in pursuing an agriculture major in the college.
After high-school graduation, STEAM students participate in a summer session at NC State University and then take their first year of coursework at a North Carolina community college or other institution. Students who complete all requirements of the program are guaranteed admission into an agriculture major in CALS and enter the college as sophomores. STEAM students receive personalized course and academic advising to ensure that the credits they earn in their first year will apply toward their NC State degrees.
The program is now in its second year and going strong.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students applying to NC State over the last 20 years, and consequently, admission to NC State has become very competitive,” said Kimber Lunsford, CALS academic advisor and STEAM coordinator.
“Last year, only about half of freshmen applicants to NC State were admitted. The average SAT scores and weighted high-school GPA for admitted students has also climbed dramatically.
“STEAM is an important program, because it helps provide a pathway to our amazing agriculture programs here in CALS for rural students who may not have the same access to standardized test preparation and Advanced Placement courses.”
The program is invitation-only, and students who apply to NC State agriculture majors are eligible to be invited. Selection is based on academic record and a genuine interest in agriculture, and preference is given to students from rural counties.
“We have already seen how this program can make a huge difference in the lives of our students,” Lunsford said. “STEAM students are hard-working and driven, and they have a genuine passion for agriculture. Our program can have a dramatic impact on them by giving them the opportunity to study in CALS and pursue their dreams.”
Cory Venable, 19, is a sophomore from the first STEAM class. He completed his freshman year at Central Carolina Community College and now is studying in the college’s Department of Agricultural and Extension Education. Venable, a Harnett County native, also received a scholarship from the Gordons this year.
“The STEAM program has made a difference in my life by giving me the opportunity to attend NC State,” he said. “I plan to become a high-school agriculture teacher, and the STEAM program has given me many resources on campus and the ability to meet some amazing people that I may potentially work for or with one day. I’ve also made a close group of friends through the STEAM program that will last a lifetime.”
STEAM is one part of a larger program – “Farm to Philanthropy” – funded by the Gordons’ endowment. Another initiative of the program is called A.S.P.I.R.E., or ACT Supplemental Preparation in Rural Education.
A.S.P.I.R.E. helps rural students prepare for standardized college entrance exams by providing intensive test preparation courses through the Cooperative Extension centers in their home counties. According to a release issued by NC State, previous success with more than 230 students from 18 North Carolina counties has shown that test scores can be dramatically increased through focused support and meaningful mentorship. The “Farm to Philanthropy” funding will allow the successful program to expand to more of the state’s rural counties.
During the STEAM student celebration in August, the Gordons also signed the memorandum of understanding. The university will seek matching gifts to grow the endowment.
“We hope to grow the STEAM program to allow more students who are not accepted as freshmen the opportunity to study with us in CALS, while continuing to provide the level of support and advising that is central to the STEAM program,” Lunsford said. “The potential for our program to change the lives of young people throughout North Carolina is really exciting.”
– Suzanne Stanard