NAF Advisory Board Champion Jerry Pedley
Locals have known for decades how deeply involved Jerry Pedley is in education. Now, with the owner and president of Mertek Solutions accepting an award from NAF, a nonprofit formerly known as the National Academy Foundation, the entire nation knows as well.
Pedley received the NAF Advisory Board Champion Award at its annual conference in Dallas. He was one of three U.S. business leaders honored for providing extraordinary leadership allowing students to participate in work-based activities that prepare them for success in college and careers.
Pedley and his fellow honorees provided that leadership by working with NAF academies, four-year high school programs that prepare students to enter specific careers.
During the last academic year, there were 675 academies in more than 460 schools across the United States, according to NAF data, including six academies operated by Lee County Schools. Lee County and Southern Lee high schools each offer NAF academies in engineering, finance, and hospitality and tourism.
“It is difficult to put into words the contributions Jerry makes to both Lee County Schools and the Lee County community,” wrote Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan in one of three nominations recommending Pedley for the award. “Jerry unselfishly gives his time, talents, resources and passion to any endeavor that helps our students realize their potential and become successful in school and beyond.”
Though Pedley doesn’t like to take credit for what he and his company have done to create opportunity for students, others are happy to make the point. Gary Hart, who directs career and technical education for Lee County Schools, begins with how Pedley and Mertek Solutions have hosted Manufacturing Day, an annual gathering where freshmen see up close what engineers do at one of the region’s most successful robotics companies.
Then he mentions how Pedley pitches in to help high school robotics teams and throws open his doors to offer Mertek facilities, machines and materials for student projects. And how he helps schools make vital connections with four-year colleges and other local businesses.
And then there are internships. Before Jerry Liang graduated from Southern Lee High School in May, the Academy of Engineering student worked at Mertek three or four days each week, getting an in-depth look at the engineering process while helping the company design and build manufacturing machines.
Southern Lee Academy of Engineering Director Martin Bryant says the internship can be a life-changing experience for talented students like Liang — not only because of what they learn on the job, but because they can work with someone, like Pedley, who is enthusiastic and genuinely cares about the students.
“Jerry really loves what he’s doing and he can impart that in a way that kids understand it,” is how Hart describes the dynamic. “He’s very humble. He doesn't flaunt everything. And he relates to everyone. He relates as well to students as he does to a room full of CEOs.”
Though he doesn’t like to tout his own accomplishments, Pedley does want to talk about the great things happening in local education. For this engineer and business owner, that starts with NAF academies, something he didn’t know much about until he actually got involved.
But, he says, it goes much further. “Here in Lee County, businesses are getting involved in education,” Pedley said with that same enthusiasm academy students have come to expect. “We have fabulous elected leaders and, with leadership from the superintendent and staff of our schools, everything is getting better every day.
“We need to promote that and let people know there’s a lot of good work getting done. We have great schools. They’re doing a fabulous job and they’re getting better and better.”
Pedley’s contributions extend well beyond Lee County Schools, and trying to list all of them is risky, only because there’s a good chance you’ll miss a few. Among them: Pedley serves on advisory boards for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, Central Carolina Community College, North Carolina State University and Campbell University.
When he took the stage in Dallas to receive his award, the presenter read a citation that began with Pedley’s career before recounting his service to the community, which is something that made an impact on NAF officials when it was time to select honorees.
“NAF is proud to honor Jerry, as a 2017 Advisory Board Champion, for his longstanding commitment and service to our local-area high school students in NAF Engineering academies,” said NAF Chief Operating Officer Lisa Dughi. “He is both a leader and an advocate who has gone above and beyond to create more innovative work-based learning, internship and community service opportunities for young people.
“We thank Jerry for all of his contributions that will continue to ensure that the next generation is college, career and future ready.”
Pedley said he was honored by the award and impressed by what he saw at the national conference, including how deeply involved Lee County Schools is nationally in developing NAF academies. It only fueled his desire to help everyone else understand what great things are happening in the schools — and to get involved.
It’s not just a one-way street. Pedley tells pretty much anyone who will listen how getting involved has helped his company connect with talented students and recruit new members for the Mertek team. And he loves to tell people how he gets energized working with talented young people. “I give a little,” he says. “But I get a massive amount back.”