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Teacher focuses on STEM as Kenan Fellow

Kenan Fellowship gives North Belmont teacher an opportunity to focus on STEM

“Never stop learning” is a common motto that applies to North Belmont Elementary School teacher Vanessa Hairston.

Vanessa HairstonThis summer, Hairston is taking on an internship that she says will help her become an even better teacher for her students.  She will participate in the “Spurring Innovation in Manufacturing” program at Cornerstone Building Brands in Gaffney, S.C.

“This experience will allow me to become more skilled in teaching science, integrating technology, and supporting and fostering more student-led, project-based learning,” said Hairston.  “It also will offer a lens for me to show students how what they are learning in the classroom applies to the real-world setting.”

The professional development opportunity is made available through the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology, and Science at N.C. State University.  Hairston is among 26 teachers from across the state who were chosen as Kenan Fellows for the 2021-2022 academic year.  She will receive a $5,000 stipend and participate in 80 hours of professional development. 

North Belmont Elementary principal Justin Beam said, “Ms. Hairston is a bright and talented teacher, who inspires her students to want to learn.  She has so much to gain from the Kenan Fellowship, and we are excited by the knowledge that she will be able to share with her students.”

Hairston, who has been teaching for 20 years, is looking forward to learning more about Cornerstone Building Brands and how the company produces such products as roofing, doors, windows, metal panels and walls, gutters, and stonework.  Even though her students are elementary age, she believes it is never too early to begin focusing on careers and planting a seed for the future.

Hairston wants what she teaches inside the classroom to be applicable to her students’ lives outside the classroom.  She says they enjoy learning about concepts associated with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and through the Kenan Fellows program, she hopes to convey to her students how STEM is used to create everyday items such as doors and windows.  It’s possible that the knowledge and experience she shares with her students might inspire them to be a part of the next generation of builders and manufacturers.

“It is such an honor to represent North Belmont Elementary and Gaston County Schools in the Kenan Fellows program,” added Hairston, who looks forward to sharing what she learns with her colleagues at North Belmont and other schools.  “I’m hopeful that this experience will be a platform to promote something positive for our community.”

Established in 2000, the Kenan Fellows program connects outstanding educators with mentors in local industries and creates opportunities that build meaningful relationships. Teachers participating in the 2021-2022 Kenan Fellows program receive leadership training to drive innovations in STEM education and help students build career-ready skills.  As a Kenan Fellow, Hairston becomes part of a statewide network of teacher leaders who are working collaboratively to advance STEM education in North Carolina and beyond.

“I’m so thankful that an organization of this caliber recognizes remarkable talent in educators like Vanessa Hairston,” concluded Beam.  “We are very happy about this experience for her.”