And the winner of the BB&T Discovery Forum is…

Over the weekend, we welcomed fifteen teams of young entrepreneurs – all winners of our regional Discovery Forum series – to Hunt Library for the BB&T Leadership Symposium, with each team pitching their social entrepreneurship venture for the chance to win $10,000! We’re so proud of each our participants for their ingenuity, dedication, creativity and commitment to their local community.

DF Collage

We’ve been talking a lot at the Institute about the importance of project-based learning (PBL), a theme that resonated through each of our five FutureWork Day Two Leadership Hackathons. These innovative young upstarts – all ages 18 to 30 – demonstrate the need in North Carolina for more PBL initiatives, including on-the-job skills training, to prepare our next generation for the future of work. Without preparation for work from PBL, we could be missing out on similar brilliance from bright young minds; hands-on training can light the spark on the next great idea to improve the future of North Carolina!

We’ll be talking more over the next few weeks about this event and our ties to civic engagement, but learn a bit about our three finalists below.

And, without further ado, the winner of the BB&T Leadership Symposium – FreshSpire!


A little about our three finalists:

  • FreshSpire (winner!) partners with grocery stores so that consumers can get updated notifications on marked down perishables like meats, breads, dairy, and produce. We recover nutritious food that would otherwise end up in our landfills.
  • According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, 1 in 5 local households (nearly 200,000 citizens) do not have a home computer, affecting nearly every aspect of economic and educational achievement for those affected families. Informative Technologies has sucessfully piloted a solution to this “Digital Divide” by creating ReviveDrive™computers: recycled laptops pre-loaded with our multi-lingual, Windows-compatible operating system, tested and packaged by high school interns, and sold at a wholesale price of $100 to area schools and nonprofits as a profitable fund-raiser. The technology allows “reduced-lunch” families to connect to subsidized broadband at home.
  • Special Pedals, Inc. is a non-profit bike shop that trains and employs adults with disabilities, while offering convenient low-cost bikes and bike repairs to UNC Wilmington students. Special Pedals, Inc. seeks to build a community where adults with disabilities are employed in positions that offer equal hours, pay, and quality of life. The mission of Special Pedals, Inc. is to offer individualized training programs and employment opportunities for adults with disabilities

For more information on the Discovery Forum series, visit our website.

Care about project-based learning and its impact on North Carolina? Register for next week’s FutureWork Virtual Engagements in five sectors: Banking & Finance, EdTech, Energy, Goverment/Smart Communities and Healthcare!


InnovateSENC: Perspectives on PBL

UNCW CollageOur partners at InnovateNC traveled to Wilmington last week for the InnovateSENC (Wilmington/Carolina Coast) cross-city convening! In touring its facilities, like the Center for Marine Science at UNC Wilmington (pictured above); businesses like MARBIONC and literal makerspace Manufacturing Methods; and community colleges like Cape Fear Community College and Brunswick Community College, we learned a great deal about project-based learning, innovation and the future of work.

These hubs of innovation are using project-based learning to equip their students and young workers with the skills necessary to thrive in industry. Students at Cape Fear Community College, for instance, can  enroll in its nationally recognized marine tech program and spend 32 days at sea on Cape Hatteras, getting their hands wet – literally. Wilmington and its coastal neighbors are at the forefront of innovation, and by embracing project-based learning, they’re well-suited to weather the changing future of work.

Check out the full InnovateNC/project-based learning conversation via Storify!

IEI Environments Newsletter: March!

author-1Ivan copy2Our March Environments Newsletter is out!
We’re thrilled to welcome old friend Diane Cherry and FutureWork Leadership Hackathon panelist Ivan Urlaub as expert voices for this edition of the Environments Newsletter.

Cherry and Urlaub, both of the NC Sustainable Energy Association, tackled how to best develop North Carolina’s Energy Vision:

As part of FutureWork, stakeholders participated in a special energy sector “Leadership Hackathon” focusing on an important question: What can North Carolina do now to ensure the right mix of new employees given the utility business model changes?

Future Works, 2016 IEI Forum

After their work was done, participants voted for strategies they felt were the most important. Topping the list was a unanimous decision that we must first develop an energy vision for North Carolina’s energy economy before considering other workforce development strategies.

Read more from Cherry and Urlaub, and subscribe to all of our sector-area newsletters.

Anita in China: We have work to do in NC

author-v2I’ve loved the experience of being in Beijing. That said, I am more than ready to be back in North Carolina. It’s time to put my learning to work.

I’ve noted the way government officials, educators and business leaders are working together to build a culture of innovation in China. Take, for instance, the Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition (BYSCC). Hundreds of projects on display at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, significant cash prizes, high-level leaders using the opportunity to encourage school teachers, and an award ceremony reminiscent of a Hollywood affair.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair will be held this weekend, at Meredith College in Raleigh.

I’ve been talking to Tom Williams, who is also here in Beijing. He explains our event will be heroically pulled together by a hearty group of volunteers, supported by limited ever-faithful sponsors, and is unlikely to attract the high-level policy officials who should most celebrate its existence. We can change that.

I’m committed to working to support the 2017 North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair, to help it reach a new scale. I hope you’ll join me.


Many thanks to the NC Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center for inviting me to serve as a delegate this year. I’m grateful to my colleagues, to my fellow travelers, and to the wonderful students we went to support. I have many ideas for how to implement the lessons I’ve learned here in North Carolina; I’m off to work!

Anita in China: Treasure, Treasure

author-v2I’m writing to affirm the Chinese proverb, “A nation’s treasures are in its scholars.” I’ve spent days with amazing young people from across the world, and I was most impressed with the four North Carolina students here for the Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition.

Our students wowed the Chinese judges, and racked up on the medals for their projects.

Meet them:

IMG_0670.JPG-150x150Jonathon Kuo
NC School of Science and Mathematics

Jonathon’s Project: Making and testing a fuel cell that does not require the membrane or many of the other costly components of a traditional ethanol fuel cell, lowering the overall cost of making the cell. By further refining the components of the fuel cell and thus improving the performance, ethanol fuel cells can be made into viable, less expensive sources of energy.

IMG_0671.JPG-150x150.jpegNimit Desai
NC School of Science and Mathematics

Nimit’s Project: Discovering how to selectively activate certain beneficial protein pathways and not activate harmful pathways, thus improving therapeutics for inflammatory disorders and dysregulated T-cell activation, both of which are fundamental to our immune system.

IMG_0465.JPG-150x150.jpegHolly Ren
Enloe High School

Holly’s Project: Developing effective methods to control parasitic nematodes contributing to massive crop loss. Plant parasitic nematodes – microscopic worms that feed on plant cells – cause nearly $100 billion in annual crop loss, making feeding the world’s growing population very difficult. This research can help to develop novel ways to control these parasites.

IMG_0438-150x150.jpgRohan Deshpande
East Chapel Hill High School

Rohan’s Project: Creating a small, inexpensive device, installed invisibly, that accurately tracks the number of people in a room by monitoring its entrance. This could save school districts more than $10,000 annually by reducing wasted electricity consumption, and could lead to savings of more than $160 million annually if installed in all public school restrooms in the United States.

We’re headed back stateside, and while I’ll be sad to say goodbye to our adventures abroad and to these students, I’m confident our future – and the future of North Carolina and its workforce – are safe in their hands.

Anita in China: Spanning the Great Wall


Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering, Google
2015 Emerging Issues Forum

author-v22015 Emerging Issues Forum speaker Ray Kurzweil says nanobots will soon connect our neocortex to the cloud, exponentially expanding our ability to do all sorts of things. I’ve been asking myself all day whether Kurzweil is offering hope for closing the gap between people like myself and the students in delegations from both North Carolina and the Ukraine with whom I spent most of the day; I’ll share more about their exciting research agendas, and my quest to fully understand them, later this week.

Great Wall

The four NC students at the Great Wall
(📷: Keith Poston)

Today, I want to share some personal observations as we walked the Great Wall of China. First, both groups moved quickly across the awe-inspring feat of ancient architecture. Call it youthful energy if you’d like, but I saw their purposeful gait from the very first step as something different. I saw sheer, unadulterated determination. Second, although I was super-impressed by my own climb of four towers (filled with all the huffing and puffing the moment demanded), I took great undeserved pride in the fact that both student delegations completed the full eight-tower trek. These students do not half-step. They are conscientious about all they do. Finally, I find myself replaying several scenes reflecting the students’ uncommon, but complete, openess to the new experience. There were several reasons one could find to be cranky, but the students fully embraced the experience, all while laughing and talking comfortably with each other, as well as with random strangers they encountered along the way. It was a joy just to watch.

The personal traits of determination, concientousness and openess predict great futures for these students. Mr. Kurzweil, please forgive the limitations of my imagination, but I just can’t see how hooking my brain up to the cloud helps me to get to where they’re headed in life.

Anita in China: Day One

author-v2Greetings from China!

IMG_0443-300x300A long day of travel to Beijing, but worth every minute of time spent getting to know two generations of educational leadership in North Carolina. First, four amazing emerging leaders: NCISC Scholars Holly Ren, Nimit Desai, Jonathon Kuo, and Rohan Deshpande. These small giants are here to showcase their prowess in the 36th Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition. After just twenty-four hours with them, it’s clear no competition will capture a fraction of their potential to take our state leaps forward in other aspects of life.

I am equally honored to be with another group of leaders, those focused on learning from this experience so that thousands of other young people in North Carolina have opportunities to meet their own potential to be small giants. Keith Poston is the president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina; Tom Williams is chair of the Board of Trustees for the NC School of Science and Mathematics; and Gena Renfrew leads the Biogen Foundation’s work to support science education in North Carolina. We are joined by coordinators Dr. Fran Nolan – leader of the delegation and Executive Director of the NC Grassroots Science Museums Collaborative – and Robin Bergeron-Nolan of Guilford County Schools, apparent heroes in Beijing for their many years of support for this competition.

This is going to be a unique viewpoint from which to consider the possibilities ahead for FutureWork.


Welcome to the Emerging Issues Blog!

Future Works, 2016 IEI ForumFor those of you familiar with IEI – and, if you’ve found yourself here, it’s likely you’re fairly familiar – you know we do a significant amount of programming year-round. And as we’ve grown, and as we’ve expanded our scope to more sectors across the state, we’ve struggled to regularly capture the important work we’re doing through words and pictures.

We’d like to remedy that. We want you to know what we’re up to, and we want to give you a space to converse with us on the issues that are important to you. We’re looking to regain our voice, and we’d like to use our post-Forum momentum to propel us into the blogosphere.

Over here at IEI, we’re dipping our proverbial toe into the blogging waters, led by Communications Associate Coco Keevan. We have a number of important events coming up in the summer months and into the fall, and we want to keep you up-to-date on the many ways we’re working with stakeholders to ensure a better future for North Carolina.

Kicking us off, Executive Director Anita Brown-Graham will be blogging from China, where she is accompanying four exceptional North Carolina high school students as they compete in the International Science Challenge. Anita is thrilled to support the amazing efforts of these students as they embrace the skills needed in a changing future of work.

As always, keep up with us on Twitter at @emergingissues, or visit our website at We want to hear from you! Email us using the form provided under the “Contact” tab. Thank you for being a part of our vision and for investing in North Carolina’s future!