NC East Alliance Announces Industry Cluster Leads

NC East Alliance Announces Industry Cluster Leads

NC East Alliance has added four new team members to STEM East to lead the development of four industry clusters for the STEM East Industry in Schools Initiative. Dr. Ben Thigpen will lead the Smart Ag Industry Cluster. Dr. David Lewis joins as the lead of the Aviation industry cluster. Lisa Jackson will be the lead of the Blue Economy Cluster. The fourth lead will be Dr. Valerie Bridges who will serve as the lead for the Green Energy Industry Cluster. The industry cluster leads will coordinate schools, community colleges, and industry for their respective clusters. This will include coordination of teacher workshops, development of regional cluster job fairs, and facilitating engagement of industry within schools.

Dr. Ben Thigpen recently retired from Jones County Schools where he served as superintendent for four years. Dr. Thigpen grew up in Duplin County and has 35 years of service in public education. In addition to serving as superintendent in Jones County, he has served as an English teacher and a principal in Duplin County. “I am excited to begin work with the Smart Agriculture cluster of eastern NC. I understand the importance of agriculture to our region. I grew up helping my father, a business education teacher and farmer, before becoming an educator. I appreciate, value, and understand the hard work and persistence required to be successful as a farmer and I am excited about the opportunities to grow the Smart Agriculture cluster of the in eastern NC.”

Dr. David Lewis most recently served as superintendent of Wayne County Schools before retiring in March 2023. Dr. Lewis has 32 years of public education experience in Wayne and Chowan counties as a teacher, school administrator, and district leader. “I believe the work to be done in the Aviation & Aerospace Cluster will be critical to the advancement of commercial, private, and military-connected aviation efforts in Eastern North Carolina.  I look forward to helping our public schools, our community colleges, and our business and industry leaders connect as we seek to develop a talented workforce in eastern NC for the future.”

Lisa Jackson served Pamlico County Schools as superintendent for 8 years and retired in September of 2023. Ms. Jackson has served in public education for 34 years. In addition to serving as Pamlico County Superintendent she has served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director, and community college instructor. “I am excited to join the STEM East team and lead the Blue Economy Cluster. Having lived in eastern NC my entire life, I am very familiar with the need for the sustainable use of resources in our communities. The economic growth and opportunities within the Blue Economy Cluster for our schools, businesses and communities are endless and I am excited to be a part of the team to assist with that growth in eastern NC!”

Dr. Valerie Bridges recently retired as superintendent of Edgecombe County Schools. In addition to serving as s superintendent, Dr. Bridges served previously as a high school teacher, middle school assistant principal, and elementary school principal. She will serve as the lead of the Green Energy industry cluster. “I’m excited to join STEM East and the Green Energy Cluster. We are working toward a cleaner environment and better health for our citizens and community. The potential job development and community engagement will have exponential benefits for eastern North Carolina.” For some time Dr. Bridges motto has been “Whatever It Takes” to help students succeed.

The STEM East Industry in Schools Initiative is a 29-county partnership of schools, community colleges, and industry in eastern NC. There are currently 29 schools districts and 13 community colleges that are members of the initiative. The core goal of the initiative is to build awareness of training and career opportunities among the 13,000+ teachers in eastern NC to help incorporate those opportunities into the classroom. STEM East is an initiative of NC East Alliance, which promotes economic development, workforce development, education, and marketing of eastern North Carolina.