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40 Under 40 Recipient, PTAC Client Develops Hands-On STEM Learning Kit

Program wants to expand nationally; seeks to partner with schools and tribes

Red Springs, NC-based Emerging Technology Institute (ETI) was recently awarded a prime (OTA) contract from the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office at the Department of Defense to develop STEM educational kits for students aged 13-21. ETI is led by CEO James Freeman, who is a 2021 40 Under 40 awardee and is a current client of The National Center’s American Indian Procurement Technical Assistance Center (AIPTAC). The program kicks off on January 20th will initially focus on students in Robeson County, North Carolina, where Freeman and ETI are based. DOD has identified a critical need to boost STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education to ensure its recruits have the baseline technological knowledge needed for 21st Century military and defense fields.

James Freeman, CEO of ETI

The initial engagement will provide 18 “toolboxes” – a pelican case with touchscreen monitor, keyboard, and additional gadgets such as a SDR, NFC readers, fingerprint scanners, and other commercial, off-the-shelf products. Multiple students can use a single toolbox. Students can complete the program at their own pace, while accessing a private website with tutorials and modules. Students, who need no prior tech knowledge or experience, will learn coding through a Raspberry Pi program. With the knowledge learned through Freeman’s approach, participants will be able to control and manage doorbells and cell devices and analyze frequencies. After completing the program, students compete in-person for scholarships and prizes. Participants get to keep the toolbox and all materials.

“I am very excited about partnering with the Department of Defense to boost STEM learning and skills for our youth,” said Freeman. “Programs like the one we are developing for Lumbee Tribe students are essential to ensure future generations are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow, whether in defense or other industries. I look forward to partnering with tribes, schools, or Native entities to bring this innovative program to other parts of Indian Country.”

Several of Freeman’s toolboxes

Freeman, a member of the Lumbee Tribe, took over and built out ETI four years ago after running the business incubator at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. ETI is the “innovation hub for the Department of Defense” and features the largest small unmanned aerial system (SUAS) indoor flight facility in the United States.

Freeman is eager to partner with other schools or tribes interested in expanding their STEM programs. The next program is set to begin in March, with applications due the third week of February. Internet connectivity is required, but the program can be set up and modified to meet a community’s or school’s needs.

Those interested in partnering with Freeman or learning more about the program should email him at jamesf@eticommunity.com.