Business leaders to educators: strong math skills a must

Western North Carolina’s educational institutions must re-emphasize the importance of mathematical skills at all levels — from basic addition and subtraction to advanced statistics, analysis and predictive modeling — if mountain students are to succeed in the modern workforce.


That was the message hammered home last Thursday by panelists at the opening of a two-day conference of WNC educators at Western Carolina University. The conference was the first activity of the new WNC P-16 Education Consortium, formed by Chancellor David O. Belcher. The consortium brings together a group of regional leaders to address education needs, toward the goal of improving the knowledge and skills of the WNC workforce. More than 80 educators from across the region attended.

The panel of five business leaders — Phil Drake, CEO of Drake Enterprises in Franklin; Jeanne Ellis, a manager at Biltmore Estate; Tony Johnson, director of WCU’s Millennial Initiative; Lumpy Lambert, assistant general manager at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort; and Keven McCammon, site manager for Facebook’s data center in Forest City — urged educators to continue to stress the importance of math to their students and to show them how math is used in everyday life.

Drake told conference attendees that his companies based in Franklin — from a Internet service provider to an accounting software developer to a printing house — cannot find enough qualified employees from the region to meet demand.

“I’m looking for people who are very analytical and for those who have the general concepts and can identify them,” said Drake, who is a member of the WCU Board of Trustees. “There’s not anything in my company that doesn’t require math.”

The conference was made possible by grants from the N.C. Ready for Success Program and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund through the N.C. Science, Mathematics and Technology Education Center.

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