NC State Reciprocal Tour

When College of Engineering Dean Dr. Louis Martin-Vega visited Rutherford County employers in Spring 2014, he never assumed it would lead to a deeper connection between the Isothermal Region and NC State University. During his visit, Martin-Vega signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Isothermal Community College (ICC) meant to draw university resources to the region, including engineering summer camps, professional development services and The Science House, only the beginning for what was to follow.

After numerous meetings, factory tours, brainstorming sessions and grant applications, the collaboration between NC State and the Isothermal Region continues to expand every day in, what the NC State Office of Outreach & Engagement calls, the Ultimate Community Partnership (UCP).

Our definition of an Ultimate Community Partnership is a community that makes the most of its economic resources and educational infrastructure. It’s one that values and preserves health and the environment, and uses and nurtures the talents of its residents to benefit the community at large. It is also a community that plans for the future and leverages its assets within and outside that community to anticipate and meet the challenges of change.

For years, the Office of the VP for Continuing Education has organized faculty trips into North Carolina regions and to companies across the state as a way to experience first-hand university impacts, identify where its graduates work, and to foster additional outreach and engagement opportunities. These trips have been referred to as Connecting in North Carolina (CINC}, or Mini CINC, tours.

In early November, the first NC State Reciprocal Tour hosted a collective group of North Carolina community businesses, educational institutions and industry leaders from Rutherford and Polk Counties, where the UCP is being piloted, on the NC State campus to give them a closer look at the wide range of resources NC State offers, and to provide an opportunity for collaboration with faculty from numerous colleges.

“As a land grant university, we take our teaching and research efforts off campus and out into the community on a daily basis. That’s what we do,” said senior vice provost for Academic Outreach and Entrepreneurship, Dr. Tom Miller. “But to invite a group of citizens from one community onto our campus as a whole – it’s never been done before.”

As part of the two-day event, community leaders from the Isothermal Region toured the campus, heard from a variety of speakers, visited Hunt Library and dove deeper into research and engagement efforts going on around campus that align with needs identified by their stakeholders.

Four event tracks focused on Advanced Manufacturing/Textile Technology/Innovation and Design; Community and Sustainable Tourism Development; K-12/STEM; and Equine/Vet Medicine and Beef Education/Agricultural Sciences.

“I was blown away by how many services we could tap into,” said Libby Johnson, a local realtor heavily involved in the Polk County equine industry.

“We met with faculty and students that are thinking outside the box,” added Molly Oakman of Tryon International Equine Center. “We talked about finding ways to utilize each other’s assets and capitalizing on what we have to offer. We talked about distance learning, internships and reciprocal learning opportunities between the equine center, Isothermal Community College and the NC State vet school.”

ICC President Walter Dalton has championed the new engagement model with NC State ever since the initial visit with Dean Martin-Vega in 2014. He has committed to bringing additional resources and educational opportunities to the foothills regions of Western North Carolina and joining forces with NC State to create a UCP in Rutherford and Polk Counties.

“An ultimate community must give its people hope- hope of a better job, better pay, and a better quality of life,” said Dalton. “We’re building a strong community and a stronger economy through this process with NC State.”

Four goals have emerged as Dalton, his colleagues at ICC, and other community leaders have planned what they want to accomplish with NC State’s guidance: diversifying their industry base, increasing educational opportunities for students, replacing textile and manufacturing jobs and promoting healthy community growth.

Community leaders and NC State faculty and staff involved in the NC State Reciprocal Tour made great progress in identifying next steps and how they will work together on this new engagement model, including O&E staff working with Dalton and tour participants to determine where needs and resources align and how to make stronger connections with the university’s resources.

“Throughout our visit to NC State, we visited various labs and centers and saw how students are engaging with external groups-manufacturers, community colleges, private industry and others, and how that impacts their learning and their excitement for the work they’re doing to build a stronger economy. Everywhere we went, the faculty and staff asked how they could help us,” said Scott Dadson, executive director of the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission. “What I’m most excited about is creating a two-way street with NC State and building a stronger quality of life for the Isothermal Region.”

O&E staff will also evaluate and measure the impact of the tour and ongoing collaborative practices. NC State plans to replicate the UCP model in other communities across the state.

“What I learned today is that we’ve got a friend in NC State,” said Thad Harrill, vice president of community and workforce development at ICC. “I’ve got a pocket full of business cards and I’ll be calling!”