Bright Ideas Grants Expand Learning Opportunities for Lenoir County Students

For a Lenoir County Early College High School social studies teacher, the opportunity to invest in the next generation of students and be part of something greater than himself drives his passion and enthusiasm for teaching.

Dr. Travis Towne, a third-generation teacher and military veteran, has been at the front of the classroom for 18 years. At the start of each school year, he always has one question on his mind – what can I do for my students that will benefit them now and into the future?

For the past four years, Bright Ideas – an education grant program created by North Carolina’s electric cooperatives – has been part of his answer.

“Bright ideas grants allow my students to know that somebody’s investing in them and helping them reach their goals and dreams,” Dr. Towne said. “As a small county, Bright Ideas provides resources for us that we otherwise would not have.”

Connecting the Classroom with Careers

Dr. Towne has won three Bright Ideas grants to fund classroom projects since 2019, all supported by Tri-County EMC. His first grant funded camera and video equipment and, two years later, he added lighting and sound equipment through another Bright Ideas grant. For both projects, students gained hands-on experience with this equipment and exposure to certain careers, like audio engineering, which expanded their horizons for life after high school.

Dr. Towne continued to build upon his projects in 2022 when he applied for another Bright Ideas grant, this time for a project called, “Press Your Luck but Don’t Cut the Corners.” The grant helped purchase equipment to design and create promotional materials, like mugs, buttons, stickers and more. Through the project, students acted as entrepreneurs, creating marketing materials for their business ideas and learning valuable financial skills like budgeting. But the impact didn’t stop there.

“These projects are not just one-and-done,” Dr. Towne said. “We’ve been able to use this equipment over multiple years and for many different projects, both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Dr. Towne recording a podcast with three of his students. Source: Dr. Travis Towne.

Beyond the classroom, these Bright Ideas grants have provided greater opportunities for the entire school, from creating branded cups for graduation to student government candidates using the equipment to develop campaign materials. Most recently, the school created its own podcast, “Phoenix Rising: Flight to Success,” under the direction of Dr. Towne and using the audio equipment funded by his 2021 Bright Ideas grant.

Projects funded through Bright Ideas have “empowered students to know they can create something tangible and given them greater insight into what they can do after high school,” according to Dr. Towne.

For Dr. Towne, seeing his students bring their creative ideas to life exemplifies the core mission of the Bright Ideas grant program, benefiting hundreds of students over the last four years.

Tri-County EMC’s Support for Education Makes Lasting Impact

Tri-County EMC, based in Dudley, North Carolina, funds the Bright Ideas grants available to teachers at Lenoir County Early College High School. Dr. Towne credits the cooperative for their involvement in the local community and support for education.

“Tri-County EMC is very involved in supporting our schools, building relationships and wanting to make an impact in our community,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to feel their support for education.”

Tri-County EMC serves over 26,000 members in parts of seven North Carolina counties. Since 1994, the co-op has awarded more than $1.8 million in Bright Ideas grants to local teachers, funding over 2,000 projects.

“Tri-County EMC is proud to support the educational development of our teachers and students through the Bright Ideas program,” said Deidra Grantham, manager of marketing and communications at Tri-County EMC. “We believe that investing in our educators and funding Bright Ideas grants is another opportunity for Tri-County EMC to give back to our community, and more importantly, to the schools in our service area, helping to create a brighter future for all.”

Dr. Towne’s class created branded promotional items for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives 2023 annual meeting. Source: Dr. Travis Towne.

2023-24 Bright Ideas Grants Available Now for NC Teachers

Nearly 30 years ago, the Bright Ideas education grant program was created by electric cooperatives to enhance learning opportunities in North Carolina’s K-12 classrooms and support the state’s educators. Today, approximately 600 grants are awarded each year. North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have collectively issued over $15 million in grants that have supported more than 14,200 projects and benefited well over 3.5 million students statewide since 1994.

For teachers interested in applying for a Bright Ideas grant, the deadline to submit an application for the 2023-2024 school year is Sept. 15 in most counties, but applicants should confirm the specific date with their local electric cooperative.

To learn more about the program and apply, visit