Watson Chronicle


Programs for P-12 Students

Youth Programs Relaunches I-40 E.A.S.T. Project in Support of Rural STEM Education

Monday, November 02, 2020

In 2018, Youth Programs introduced I-40 E.A.S.T., a STEM Student Enrichment Program (SSEP) funded by the Burroughs-Wellcome Foundation. The project serves rural middle and high school students in Duplin and Sampson counties.

The I-40 East Project went on hiatus in early March due to the pandemic but was relaunched this fall as a virtual program.

“Year two of the grant was focused on career exploration and included field trips to different STEM businesses and industries,” said Youth Programs Director Sue Kezios. “After months of planning, pestering and finally receiving permission to visit the Novo Nordisk Pharmaceutical plant, the pandemic forced us to cancel all of our I-40 E.A.S.T. project field trips. Students were disappointed by the cancellations and hoped we could reschedule visits to later in the spring. Well, eight months have passed, and we are finally back up and running, albeit virtually.”

UNCW’s I-40 E.A.S.T team relaunched the project in October with a virtual meeting focused on careers in Cybersecurity. Students met with representatives of law enforcement, health care, city government, banking and UNCW’s computer science department. Representatives of the Cyber Defense Education Center at UNCW helped to plan the event.

“Students were really interested to learn that the most frequent cybercrime committed on schools is actually by students who attend them and try to get into the records system in order to change a grade!” Kezios said. “They were also very interested to speak with the city government representative who talked about efforts to protect the election from hackers.”

UNCW’s K-12 Engineering Coordinator Jasmine Gaston led the students in an encryption activity using Python, a popular computer language. The virtual field trip wrapped up with a discussion about ethics in cyber space.

“Students are looking forward to future virtual field trips to include “pandemics, plasma & pharmaceuticals” in November with guest speakers from Biogen and Grifols, and forensics in December with guest speakers, including UNCW’s own forensic anthropologist Midori Albert,” Kezios said. “Hopefully in January, our long postponed visit with Novo Nordisk to learn about health research and obesity may finally happen.”