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Rural Works! program continues to grow, despite pandemic

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Sophomore industrial and systems engineering major Tabitha Gardner learned a lot during a summer 2020 internship with idX Corporation. When NC State changed the fall 2020 semester to end earlier than normal, Gardner saw an opportunity to continue that internship over the longer winter break and learn even more.

The company designs, manufactures and installs interior fixtures and decorations for a wide range of retailers. During her internship experiences at the idX location in Washington, NC, Gardner developed considerable proficiency with CAD platforms and also learned important skills that complement her technical knowledge, including networking and communication.

Gardner said that she was introduced to engineering concepts during the internship that she hadn’t yet seen in the classroom.

“When I got to those topics in my classes, I had a better understanding of what the professor was talking about,” she said.

Gardner found the internship through Rural Works!, a program that matches NC State students with summer internship opportunities in rural communities with companies and local governments that might not normally be able to attract them. The College provides participating students with a stipend from the Engineering Enhancement Fee, which is used to add and enhance educational opportunities.

Many rural communities in North Carolina and across the U.S. report talented young people leave to attend college and choose not to return. Rural Works! hopes to address this issue by matching interest and opportunity, as some students return to their home counties for rewarding summer opportunities and others explore new towns and industries.

“The Rural Works! internships provide important on-the-job learning experiences for our students, which helps them contextualize their courses on campus. In addition, through the community service and reflection elements of the program, students gain a critical understanding of the issues that face rural areas,” said Jerome Lavelle, associate dean for academic affairs in the College and program advocate.

The College placed four students around the state as part of a pilot program in summer 2018, and then 18 students during summer 2019. The program was affected by the pandemic during summer 2020, but the College hopes to place 60 students in internships across the state in summer 2021. Industry Expansion Solutions, the College’s extension service, and Director Phil Mintz help attract North Carolina companies to the program.

Six engineering students took advantage of the longer winter break between fall 2020 and spring 2021 to continue gaining valuable experience with Rural Works! companies.

Sophomore Brady Jones is majoring in aerospace engineering. He worked on several projects with packaging manufacturer Sealed Air Corporation in Lenoir, NC, both during summer and over the holiday.

“I wanted to set myself apart early in my undergrad in order to set myself up for future positions,” Jones said. “In today’s professional environment, especially in engineering, if you do not have experience coming out of college you will not be a preferential candidate.”

Return to contents or download the Spring / Summer 2021 NC State Engineering magazine (PDF, 52.0 MB).

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