Andrea Walter, a fifth-grade science and social studies teacher at Polk Central Elementary School, has been named a 2020-21 Kenan Fellow for Teacher Leadership.

Walter is one of 19 Kenan Fellows in the 2020-21 cohort who are participating in the year-long professional development and enrichment program for K-12 educators across North Carolina. Her fellowship was made possible through a partnership between Facebook and the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership at N.C. State University. The fellowships are awarded through a competitive application process, and once selected, the educators participate in 80 hours of professional development focused on project-based learning, digital learning, workforce education and leadership development.

Walter is partnering with experts at Biltmore Farms to make connections between her classroom and the local workforce. Over the course of the fellowship, she will develop a deeper understanding of local industries, their workforce needs and how they can make relevant connections for their students. This summer, Walter spent three weeks at Biltmore Farms in Asheville for a job-shadowing experience.

The original Biltmore Estate was divided into two companies, the Biltmore Estate and Winery, as well as Biltmore Farms, a former dairy operation. Throughout the greater Asheville area, Biltmore Farms now develops and manages hotels, retail sites and residential areas.

Biltmore Farms is committed to five tenets, which were inspired by George W. Vanderbilt, who in 1888 bought his first parcels of land in western North Carolina. He constructed the Biltmore Estate, Biltmore Village and various churches, educational institutions and medical facilities.

Mr. Jack Cecil, President and CEO of Biltmore Farms and great-grandson of George W. Vanderbilt, spent time with Walter, reflecting on his commitment to the well-being of the Asheville community as a developer. Walter also met with vice presidents, managers and other Biltmore Farms staff, where she learned about the company’s commitment to sustainability, including outfitting buildings with solar panels, protecting natural spaces, relying on local construction materials and recycling or reusing everything from hotel soaps to construction waste.

“While maintaining confidentiality, I was able to participate in team-building sessions, wellness initiatives, employee interviews and discussions of health costs in regard to the repercussions of COVID-19,” Walter said.

She was also able to tour the Biltmore Park Hilton and the 2020 Southern Living Idea House as well as stormwater management systems and residential developments.

“I had no idea what intensive planning is required to build a community where neighbors enjoy each other’s company,” she said. “There are a variety of activities for residents, and the natural environment is respected and appreciated.”

As a culminating experience, Walter walked the gardens of the Biltmore Estate with Carol Steen, the company’s vice president of talent and human resources, reflecting on the legacy of George W. and Edith Vanderbilt: the Pisgah Forest National Park, the arts, crafts and recreation of Asheville, the many businesses, and the possibilities for the future of development and commerce.

“The experience was incredibly rich,” Walter said “I am considering ways that I can help students see the value of having integrity around their core values as they engage in a design process. I am grateful to the Kenan Fellows Program, to Facebook for sponsoring my fellowship and to the staff at Biltmore Farms for providing me with this tremendous opportunity.”