Longfellow donates $260k to support Durham STEM education

Jun. 04, 2014 @ 05:49 PM

Already an investor in Durham’s buildings, Longfellow Real Estate Partners is now also an investor in the city’s “human infrastructure.”

Education, business and government leaders gathered downtown on Wednesday to celebrate a $260,000 donation by the firm to support science, technology, engineering and math education programs in Durham.

Longfellow is the firm that partnered to buy two downtown former Liggett Group tobacco buildings that are now leased by Duke University for research lab and office space. It’s also a partner in an effort to create a proposed hub of life science and technology companies called the “Durham Innovation District.” The company focuses on life sciences real estate development.

“On many levels, Longfellow is a big believer in the Triangle region’s future, and is eager to help make our brightest possibilities come to fruition,” Jessica Brock, managing director of Longfellow’s Durham office, said in a statement.

Brock said the firm, based in Boston, is looking to invest in the STEM education efforts in order to enable companies and others in the proposed downtown district to have a pipeline of local, educated workers.

The firm donated $100,000 to Durham Technical Community College, $100,000 to the Duke University Talent Identification Program, and through a grant to the Durham Chamber Legacy Foundation provided $60,000 to the City of Durham’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

“They will be providing these grants so young people can get better prepared for work in (science, technology, engineering and math),” said Kevin Dick, the director of the workforce-development office.

The office plans to use the grant to allow 20 to 25 young people to get funds for books and supplies for science, engineering, technology and math classes at Durham Tech, Dick said, and then to help match them to appropriate internships in related industries. 

At the celebration of the grants Wednesday, Dick said that there’s a lot of discussion in the community about how to get students from school into high-growth, high-paying jobs. Involving the private sector in that effort is “the model we need to pursue” as public funding “may not be on an upward trajectory.”

 “It’s an example of how we can take young people who are making their way through science, technology, engineering and math classes…in school and getting them into post-secondary education training, and then connecting them with internships,” he said.

Durham Technical Community College President William Ingram said the college plans to use the grant to support work-based learning initiatives. He said internships and other work opportunities are an important piece of education in sectors like health care.

Duke TIP Executive Director Martha Putallaz said in a statement that the program’s grant will help more local students to “realize their full potential.” And in an interview, she said the proposed innovation district would provide educational opportunities for students to see lab science in action.

Duke TIP is located near the proposed district in the Power House, built in 1926 as a power plant for the now-named Liggett Group’s commercial operations. Putallaz said the program got the OK to occupy the building about a week ago.

The building was sold by the developers of the West Village redevelopment project to a support corporation for Duke, and Putallaz said it was once used as offices for the developers.

On a tour of the building that has brightly painted walls and lots of natural light, she showed where the program’s customer service, administration and talent search employees are located.

West Village was developed by a team that included the former Duke basketball stars Brian Davis and Christian Laettner. She said part of the building was once used as basketball court by the ball players-turned-developers, and a piece of the floor is now hanging on the wall. It’s printed with “BDV,” for Blue Devil Ventures.