Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Plans are under way to open an early college high school on the UNC Charlotte campus starting in fall 2014. It will be the first of its kind in Mecklenburg County for an innovative educational concept that has been growing in popularity across North Carolina.

Michele Howard, former dean of students, is the University's director of Early College Programs and liaison to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.  The new high school will focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, with a specific emphasis on energy.

“Charlotte is a major energy hub in the country so the identification and cultivation of future engineers is vital to our continued prominence in this area,” Howard said.  “The investment of time and resources in this STEM school not only benefits CMS and the University but will also impact the city, state and region by increasing interest in the STEM disciplines and cultivating future engineering professionals.”

In early college high schools, students take a variety of required high school classes and tuition-free college courses. Once necessary approvals have been received, the new school would be housed near the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center on the Charlotte Research Institute portion of campus.

EPIC opened in a new $76 million facility in 2012, with a mission to produce the next generation of engineers and other workers for the region’s expanding energy-industry cluster. It has received financial backing from a number of energy giants, including Duke Energy, Siemens, Westinghouse and Areva.

The early college high school, a joint partnership between the University and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, has been approved by the State Board of Education.  The next step is for the application to be reviewed by the UNC System’s Board of Governors.

“This is the first early college program for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and we are very enthusiastic that UNC Charlotte is partnering with us to bring this unique opportunity to Charlotte-Mecklenburg students,” said Akeshia Craven-Howell, executive director of transformation for CMS. “The CMS and UNC Charlotte partnership will help to increase access to college as well as intentional exposure to career pathways in the engineering and energy sectors.”

For UNC Charlotte, the school will become a research and professional development site for STEM education and teacher preparation. It will feature a five-year curriculum that will enable students to earn their high school diploma and up to two years of transferrable college credit. 

Howard said the timing is ideal for opening the school on the campus.

“There are more early college high schools in North Carolina than in any other state in the country,” she said. “We are certainly the leaders in the nation in this category.”

Photo (inset): Michele Howard