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Toyota Battery NC president Sean Suggs, left, Dr. Whitney Oakley, superintendent of Guilford County Schools, and Dr. Stephen Gainey, superintendent of the Randolph County School System, pause for a photo.     Larry Penkava/Randolph Hub

Toyota investing $2 million in STEM education

LIBERTY — Toyota Battery Manufacturing North Carolina has yet to open but is investing $2 million in public schools in the Randolph County School System and Guilford County Schools.


In an invitation-only meeting at the Liberty Showcase Theater, Sean Suggs, president of TBMNC, introduced a program called Driving Possibilities. North Carolina will be the seventh location to have the program launched.


Suggs said Driving Possibilities is student-centered with a concentration on STEM careers, or science, technology, engineering and math. “The focus is on getting young people prepared for careers,” he said.


“STEM education is really important,” Suggs said. “There will be 3.5 million STEM jobs in the US in the next decade. What Driving Possibilities is all about is a promise to young people, outstanding opportunities for all, investing in people.”


Suggs reminded the audience that Toyota is investing more than $13 billion in the battery plant and creating 5,000 jobs. “The future is extremely bright,” he said. “Students are our future. We’re walking the walk when it comes to community give-back.”


Congresswoman Kathy Manning stressed the importance of Toyota’s investment here and the importance of young people being able to have good-paying jobs. 


Driving Possibilities, she said, “is not just education but helping with the problems students face. The $2 million investment is the initial (phase) and will do a lot for Randolph County and Guilford County schools.”


The program is for preK-12, Manning said. “You can’t wait until they're 12th graders to explore their academic interests and prepare for well-paid careers.”


Phil Berger, leader of the NC Senate, called Driving Possibilities “another step in the transformation of central North Carolina. Toyota is going the extra mile for students, employers and the local economy.


“Manufacturing is not what it used to be,” Berger said. “We’ve got to make sure workers have the background with a proper education to build a qualified workforce.”


NC Rep. Neal Jackson said Toyota was “leading the way. Toyota believes this is something to invest in, but we need others to follow that example. We can make investments.”


Dr. Whitney Oakley, superintendent of Guilford County Schools, said, “When students thrive, we all thrive. We need a pipeline of workers. Toyota has a vision to invest in students to be better prepared for success. We look forward to the opportunities we will explore together.”


Dr. Stephen Gainey, superintendent of the Randolph County School System, thanked Toyota, saying the new program will “get kids ready for the future. It’s all about STEM in many ways. We have to develop STEM abilities in students.”


Later, Suggs talked about how the program will be implemented: “We’ll work with the school systems, counselors, teachers to see what their needs are and figure out how kids can be helped.” That includes providing food, health care and transportation — which Suggs called a holistic, wrap-around approach.


Gainey said he was excited about the opportunity to “expose children to what the future holds. We’ve been working with Toyota over the start date and final plans.”


In the early stages, Gainey said, “We can use the initiative as a feeder program, start at the elementary school in a feeder program. We don’t want to wait until high school, but let them figure out (beginning at a young age) what they want to do with their life.”


As for the relationship between Toyota and the school systems, Gainey said, “They’re embracing us and we’re embracing them. Toyota wants to be a part of the community. When they talk about children, that’s huge in my book.”