FRCE Teams with Educators to Prepare Students for Careers in

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) recently hosted a group of Craven County School teachers as part of an externship program focused on preparing students for careers in industry.

Six educators from local schools participated in the externship program that took place at FRCE with two sessions held in June and July. Each session lasted four days and provided teachers with an opportunity to tour the depot, immerse themselves in FRCE’s operations, and meet with personnel working in a wide range of career fields.

According to FRCE’s Advanced Technology & Innovation ATI (ATI) Team Kindergarten through 12th Grade Educational Outreach Coordinator Michelle Smith, the program allows the depot to showcase career opportunities at the depot to area students.

“We are the largest employer, not only in the immediate area, but in eastern North Carolina,” said Smith. “In order to sustain and grow our workforce, we have to make sure that our local youth know that these opportunities are here. If not, we’re going to lose them to other opportunities in other areas.”

Smith said FRCE’s involvement in the externship program began several years ago. She explained that the program focuses on giving teachers an in-depth look at careers they may not be familiar with so they can take these insights back to the classroom.

“Back in 2015, we were invited to participate in this program by Craven County Schools,” said Smith. “The aim is to provide teachers with background on workforce development in the area and all of the possible opportunities that exist. These experiences allow the teachers to make connections for their students in the classroom. When students ask why they need to know a certain concept, teachers now have a more concrete answer because they’ve seen close-up how many of those concepts are actually put into work every day at a place like FRCE.”

During the four-day externship sessions, the educators toured various production areas at FRCE and met with personnel working throughout the depot and within the various Fleet Support Teams (FSTs).

“We want them to see all aspects of working at FRCE,” said ATI Team’s Innovation Lead Engineer Randall Lewis. “We have a huge variety of jobs here and we want the educators to be well-informed when they leave here. We try to maximize their time and give them exposure to everything from engineering to logistics. They get to see the production lines, engineering shops, and some of the other divisions such as Training and our Information Technology and Cyber Security division. We try to give them a complete snapshot, because I think that’s what is most beneficial for their kids when they go back.”

Lewis cited the engagement of educators as a driving force in the success in the program.

“I think the kids really see the excitement that their teachers have about what we do, and I think that gets the kids excited as well,” said Lewis. “So, it’s been really beneficial for us. It helps boost the success of our outreach pipeline. We have quite a few students who now work here that were exposed to a teacher who was involved in a program with us.”

Jennifer Popperwill, a math and science teacher at H.J. MacDonald Middle School, said the up close and personal look at the depot provided a clear look at the vast set of skills needed in an industry workplace such as FRCE.

“Kids wonder why they have to learn certain things,” said Popperwill. “Then you come to a place like this and realize that you will use these skills every day. There’s a whole set of skills that you’re learning in middle school and in high school that you will need in a place like this. I never realized how much went into working on even one aircraft, especially the variety of different jobs and skills involved.”

For many of the educators, the introduction to the variety of specialties found at FRCE was eye opening. FRCE’s workforce numbers more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers whose jobs cover a broad range of career fields.

“I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life and I’ve always heard of FRCE,” said David Rackley, who teaches Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) students in Craven County. “I just never realized how massive it is. I’ve heard people talk about it, including former students of mine who now work there, but that’s nothing like visiting and seeing all the aircraft, people, and opportunities.”

Rackley said that his time at FRCE was something he would be taking back to the classroom and sharing with students.

“They’re going to want a good job,” said Rackley. “In school, you don’t know what you want to do a lot of times. You need to figure out what it is that you want to do. But we can help. We’ve been to FRCE and we can share what we’ve seen. They may actually have a job that you like.”

Miriam Mellema, an English language arts and social studies teacher at Tucker Creek Middle School, said that the range of career fields and positions offered at FRCE provide for more than just career opportunities. She said this offers an opportunity to pursue a career in their home area.

 “I think that’s really important and very beneficial that we keep our local talent in the area,” said Mellema.  “This ensures opportunities for them to have not only a career but also the chance to keep their family in eastern North Carolina and keep those bonds strong.”

Smith said FRCE’s participation in the externship program is one just facet of an intensive education and outreach effort at FRCE. These efforts run the gamut from the deployment of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) carts at Craven County elementary schools to senior capstone design projects with students at area universities. Outreach efforts all focus on engaging, inspiring, and educating students from eastern North Carolina while highlighting the wide range of career opportunities available at FRCE.

“We’ve traditionally been under the radar,” said Smith. “People may know someone who works at FRCE but they often don’t really know what that person does. Over the years we have been changing that through a range of outreach efforts. We want to ensure people know what we do and all the things we’re involved in. Our goal is to keep our local students invested and involved so that when they start choosing careers, they’ll consider us.”

Lewis explained that FRCE is continuously expanding upon these outreach efforts and said that FRCE has already seen positive results.

“We’re excited,” said Lewis. “Our education and outreach program is constantly growing and evolving. It’s going to keep getting bigger because we can’t serve the warfighter unless we have a quality workforce. That takes effort but we are already seeing the fruits of our efforts. It’s all about the future and essentially being able to grow a high quality workforce of students that are interested in living and working in eastern North Carolina. We want students that are interested to know there is a potential career for them right here.”

FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

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