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By Brianna Patterson  

Fiona Chen, wearing a white tee shirt and dark braided hair, stands over a table with two children on her right, a child to her left and a volunteer. She and the kids are reading a manual for a science project.
Fiona Chen demonstrates how electronics work to youth in Franklinton.

Fiona Chen ‘25, biology at UNC-Chapel Hill, combined her passions for teaching, science and public service during her summer as an SECU Public Fellows intern with United Way of Franklin County. Chen’s rural hometown, interest in public service and goals of attending dental school inspired her to apply for the program.  

“I want to be a dentist in the future and a lot of dentistry is about teaching and giving back to the community, but I also have a science background, so I thought it would be really great to be able to integrate those two into the bus,” says Chen when reflecting on her choice to apply for the internship. 

As an intern, Chen worked in the Innovation Mobile Lab – a bus that brings STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities to youth across North Carolina. The Innovation Mobile Lab primarily travels to rural and/or low-income areas, including locations in Vance, Franklin and Durham counties. 

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The Innovation Mobile Lab allows United Way of Franklin County to bring fun STEM activities directly to area youth

“All of the schools in Franklin County are title one schools, so there’s a lot of need up here and a lot of opportunities for us to be able to teach kids about STEM,” said Andrea Bell Wright, the executive director of United Way of Franklin County. 

The mission of the Innovation Mobile Lab is to increase access to STEM, which is also one of Chen’s interests. Chen is from Franklin County and says, “I realized that growing up a lot of my classmates didn’t have any exposure to STEM. We just focused on what you usually do in school, and that meant some touches of STEM, but it wasn’t presented in a fun way.” As Innovation Coordinator, Chen taught STEM through fun activities that ensured that her students enjoyed learning. 

“The goal here is to show them that having a career in STEM is a possibility and it can be fun at the same time,” says Chen. 

Hear more from Chen and United Way of Franklin County:

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