Math Teacher Connects Lessons with the Real World during Kenan Fellowship at Union Power

For the fifth year in a row, a North Carolina electric cooperative is teaming up with a local educator to provide a first-hand look at what it takes to run an electric cooperative as part of N.C. State University’s Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership. The goal of this partnership? To connect skills taught in the classroom with skills needed for a successful workforce.

This year, Union Power Cooperative is hosting Pamela Johnson, a Math 1 and Math 2 teacher at Parkwood Middle School in Union County, for a Kenan Fellowship. Johnson was selected following a competitive application and interview process this spring.

“I was lucky enough to be selected by Union Power Cooperative to join them and learn about the electrical industry, specifically through the eyes of a cooperative,” said Johnson. “Seeing the entire process from inception to service has been enlightening! The opportunity to talk to professionals in various roles and see how math specifically is used in their daily lives has given me much more ammunition for answering the age-old question we Algebra teachers hear: ‘When will I use this in real life?’

For Union Power, hosting a Kenan Fellow was a natural fit.

“Union Power has always been committed to enhancing our communities though the education of our youth. Being able to implement the Kenan Fellows program for Teacher Leadership this year is a wonderful opportunity, not only for our Kenan Fellow, but for us as a cooperative as well,” said Luanne Sherron, vice president of key accounts and government relations, and Johnson’s mentor.

During the month of July, Johnson has spent her days working alongside staff at Union Power in various capacities, giving her an in-depth look at the cooperative, and how math is integrated into various job functions that serve Union’s members.

“From customer service to engineering to accounting to warehousing, math is constantly in action,” said Johnson. “The biggest change in how math is used is that the computational portions are done for us now with computers and machines. But the biggest piece, the ability to think logically and solve problems, is still critical; perhaps even more so today in our technological world.”

Group of seven adults pose outdoors

Pam Johnson, far left, with crews from Union Power.

Johnson toured the Hamlet Peaking Plant, Pee Dee Electric’s Community Solar Farm, and the Catawba Nuclear Plant during her fellowship. She also spent a day in Raleigh at the offices of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives and the Tarheel Electric Membership Association warehouse. But the most memorable and impactful experiences for Johnson have taken place in Union’s offices and on project sites with staff and crews as they work to bring power and serve members across Union Power’s service area.

“I’ve driven a forklift, been under a house, climbed a few feet up a pole with spikes, and gone up in a bucket truck,” said Johnson. “I’m a scaredy cat when it comes to heights, so the last two took some deep breathing and dedication to prove to my students that they really can do anything they want to!”

Two adults in a bucket truck as the bucket is being raised to a utility pole.

Johnson, left; rides in a bucket truck with a crew member from Union Power.

Although her time at Union Power Cooperative was limited to the month of July, Johnson will continue her Kenan Fellows experience throughout the 2019-2020 school year by designing and implementing a project that brings what she learned into the classroom.

“I’m designing a project that will encourage my students to research how electricity works, how it is brought to new locations, how communities change and grow, and what jobs can be created by all that change,” said Johnson. “My students will be researching the implications of building a new grocery store in their community and will be cross-curricular, meaning that it will hit standards not only in Math, but also in Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies. My hope is that students will see that what they are learning in school is not isolated, but rather overlapping in the real world.”

For Johnson, her fellowship with Union Power is only the beginning of an important partnership between her and the cooperative family – one that will last for years to come.

“I have been welcomed with open arms and I know it will be difficult to say goodbye even after just three weeks. I intend to keep my connections with the amazing teacher leaders I’ve met through this experience, as well as the folks at Union Power. They have already become an integral part of my life and I hope that I can someday give back to them just a fraction of what they have given to me.”

Kenan Fellows have been hosted at Surry-Yadkin EMC, Edgecombe-Martin EMC, Pee Dee Electric, Four County EMC, Central Electric and Jones-Onslow EMC. For more information on our partnership with the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership, visit the In the Community section of our website.