Resilience is the theme of the ongoing story that is Piedmont Community College’s (PCC)afterschool program BLAST!, Breakthrough Learning in Agriculture Science and Technology. This story was recently shared during North Carolina Campus Engagement’s annual Pathways to Achieving Civic Engagement Conference (PACE) at High Point University.
Two PCC leaders had the opportunity to host sessions during this event. Dr. Pamela G. Senegal, President, PCC, hosted the Fireside Chat with Ted Mitchell, President of North Carolina Campus Engagement, which was presented to all guests from 33 higher education institutions across five states. Emily Buchanan, PCC Director, Caswell County Operations, had the privilege to present a mini-workshop session about BLAST!, how it came to be, and its approach to community engagement.
BLAST! is a free Caswell County elementary school focused program where students participate in various hands-on activities related to agriculture, literacy, math, and agriculture careers. Presently, 175 students have participated in the program from Stoney Creek Elementary, North Elementary, and the Caswell County Homeschool Association.
Buchanan, as Caswell County native, coordinated the inception of BLAST! in 2020 and is currently an active participant leading and supporting many activities with the students. She shared the origin with representatives from other learning institutions at PACE including the challenges, surprises, and rewards the PCC encountered.
“This conference is all about best practices for community engagement,” Buchanan said. “I want the audience to know that while research and frameworks surrounding community engagement are important, so is the will power and determination of just jumping in and getting started, pushing through barriers, and keeping your ‘why’ in mind.”
While telling the story of BLAST! to the guests, Buchanan explained how, through perseverance, the program found initial success, with growing interest in the community.
“We were so excited collaborating with community and educational partners to create the idea of BLAST!, that when the pandemic hit and everything was forced to stall, it took the wind out of our sails,” Buchanan said. “But instead of waiting, we started brainstorming ideas, and we landed on afterschool enrichment.”
BLAST! meets with each elementary school monthly, fostering the students’ interest in agriculture, when technology and entertainment is at an all-time high. The students built their own garden, explore different types of seeds, plant and harvest produce, create homemade treats, practice arts and crafts, and much more.
“Caswell County was built on agriculture, and it’s part of this community’s heritage. We don’t want to lose that,” Buchanan said. “Giving our children as many opportunities to experience agriculture as we can is an important part of keeping that history alive.”
BLAST! works in conjunction with Cool Beans and Caswell County 4-H, and eventually, the program will be housed at PCC’s future Center for Educational and Agricultural Development (CEAD) campus in Pelham, NC. To learn more about BLAST! or volunteer, contact Emily Buchanan at (336) 694-8042 or email email@example.com.