SparkNC to Ignite Pathways to High Tech Employment

Key Points

  • SparkNC is a cooperative of 17 North Carolina school districts that will advance career pathways to high tech employment.

  • SparkNC is designing learning experiences to reengage students in different ways.


Incubated by The Innovation Project with support from the North Carolina legislature, SparkNC is a cooperative of 17 North Carolina school districts that will advance career pathways to high tech employment.  

“We’re designing learning experiences to reengage students in different ways, creating new pathways to fields that hold massive economic promise for their futures,” said Joe Ableidinger, SparkNC’s Executive Director.

“Some schools might have coding camps and an AP Computer Science class, but there’s no continuum of learning,” explained Dr. Lynn Moody, a former superintendent and an advisor to SparkNC.  

Moody described three bodies of work the districts will share:

  • Discovery: Help learners new to high-tech fields see pathways as possible and accessible, with a focus on increasing engagement among women and students of color; extend exploration of pathways through activities like interacting with professionals in high-tech jobs, engaging in survey courses, and participating in tech-focused design challenges.
  • Experience: Provide opportunities for deeper learning through direct work on high-tech issues, with peers and experts in the field, addressing real world challenges; develop modular experiences for learners to engage with relevant content and progress toward mastery.
  • Career Navigation: Support learners in choosing among opportunities leading to diplomas, college credit, badges, micro-credentials, certificates, or other industry-relevant credentials; build relationships with high-tech employers to strengthen learners’ preparation and accelerate their progress into successful high-tech careers.

New pathways will focus on careers in high-tech fields including AI and machine learning, software development, systems engineering, data analytics and cybersecurity.

SparkNC is a cooperative of 17 North Carolina school districts that will advance career pathways to high tech employment.  

Tom Vander Ark

Business partners will sponsor internships and client-connected projects. District C, a North Carolina nonprofit, will support team-based internships with high tech firms. Teams of students will solve real problems for real businesses with the support of an expert coach.

SparkNC will partner with North Carolina School of Science and Math to run a student-led conference this fall on ethical tech. The Friday Institute at NCSU will evaluate the program.  

“SparkNC will be a proof of concept for a new way to do school—one that is more learner-centered, industry-relevant, and competency-based,” said Ableidinger. 

SparkNC resources and pathways will be piloted by the 17 member school districts but the intent is to benefit learners statewide. This will help the state achieve ambitious goals of two million North Carolinians have a high-quality credential or a postsecondary degree by 2030.

With statewide ambitions, legislative support, business partnerships, and world class leadership, SparkNC is off to a great start. It is likely to benefit thousands of North Carolina students and become a great example of education where human development meets economic development.

This post was originally published on Forbes.

This post is part of our New Pathways campaign sponsored by ASA. Visit our New Pathways site to learn more.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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