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Educators hope learning, careers STEM from event
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Instructor Brett Dooley talks about rocks with students Hannah Wilcox (left) and Jacob Beach, both from Bassett High School, in the STEM Day class entitled, “What’s Lurking Under Your Feet.” (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

About 250 area high schoolers took part in activities designed to stimulate their interest in learning and careers in science, technology, engineering and math at STEM Day on Friday.

“It’s fun. You can do hands-on activities,” said Carson Rigney, a 10th-grader at Martinsville High School.

Rigney and other students from Martinsville, Magna Vista, Bassett, Carlisle, Patrick County and Piedmont Governor’s School attended the activities at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) and learned of career possibilities in the STEM fields.

A July 2011 report for the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration said: “Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs. STEM workers are also less likely to experience joblessness than their non-STEM counterparts.”

At the time he spoke, Rigney was attending a session by Lloyd Cannaday, associate professor of architectural and engineering design, modeling and documentation at PHCC. The students tried their hand designing parts of a house using three-dimensional modeling software.

Rigney created virtual models of exterior walls, the roof and floors before the session ended.

“It’s kind of hard to do. It’s a challenge,” he said. He added he likes challenges and is considering studying computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) in the future.

Cannaday said it takes time, dedication and work to learn CADD, but a career can be lucrative. There aren’t many drafting jobs available locally in the field, but they exist in such places as Raleigh, Durham, and Winston-Salem, N.C., he added.

According to a handout at the session, the average annual wage of drafters in May 2012 was $53,130, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. The average wages for detailed drafting occupations at that time were $53,020 for architectural and civil drafters, $48,810 for mechanical drafters, and $46,430 for electrical and electronics drafters.

Clarence Simington, 12th-grade guidance counselor from Martinsville High School, accompanied MHS to STEM Day. He said many students don’t understand the opportunities and careers available in the area.

He also told the students how he earned associate, bachelor’s, master’s and educational specialist degrees for the most part without leaving the area. He earned an associate degree at Danville Community College and bachelor’s, master’s and educational specialist degrees through partnering universities through distance learning programs at PHCC, Southern Virginia Higher Education Center and New College Institute.

Students got to do a little sleuthing in a session by Alton Dooley, Nancy Moncrief and Elizabeth Moore of the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Students were assigned to identify and categorize animal bones by three age periods — 23 years ago, 800 years ago and 14,000 years ago — to learn about climate change.

In the process, they learned, among other things, that horses were in Virginia naturally 14,000 years ago, later became extinct, and were reintroduced by Europeans about 400 years ago.

Elk were in Virginia 14,000 and 800 years ago but now are mainly in the western United States. Maybe elk were wiped out in Virginia, Dooley suggested, and he asked the students if the arrival of the Europeans in Virginia about 400 years ago was a factor.

During that session, students also learned about some ice age animals that were in Virginia 14,000 years ago but now are either extinct (mammoth and mastodon) or live in cold climates (musk oxen).

Lacey Staples, a ninth-grader at Magna Vista High School, said the session was informative and “a lot of fun.”

Mark Huntress, assistant professor of chemistry and physics at PHCC, led a polymerization activity. Polymerization involves combining simple molecules into long-chain molecules, to create such things as nylon. Among the other practical applications are some types of 3-D printing, automotive applications, medical devices and advanced (high-tech) manufacturing of electronics components, Huntress said.

Among the local companies involved in plastics and polymer processing are Commonwealth Laminating and Coating Inc.; Drake Extrusion; Eastman, which purchased Solutia; Applied Felts Inc.; and Atlas EPS, which acquired Tri-State Foam Products Inc.

Huntress said he hoped the polymerization activity would get students excited about science and practical applications.

Other STEM Day sessions included: “Home Network Control System”; “Disarm the Bomb”; “DNA Extraction: Pig & Cat Dissection on Display”; “What’s Lurking Under Your Feet” (geology); “Application of Plant Biology Research”; “Engineering Essentials: Keeping People Safe”; “Making Math Fun with Video Game Design”; and “Crime Scene Investigation.”

Exhibitors included PHCC, PHCC Dual Enrollment and the Virginia Motorsports Racing Car; New College Institute (NC); Army Corps of Engineers; Institute of Advanced Learning and Research (IALR’s STEM Mobile Learning Lab); Old Dominion University; Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center — The Virginia Tobacco Region Scholarship; Virginia State University (Formula One Race Car); and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC).

Businesses and industries sent representatives to have lunch with the students and talk about career opportunities. They included Blue Ridge Aquaculture, Commonwealth Laminating, Invista, Bassett Industries, NILIT and Eastman, according to Kris Landrum of PHCC.

Sponsors of STEM Day were PHCC and NCI with support from Harvest Foundation, the EDC, the STEM Mobile Learning Lab from the IALR and Virginia State University. Chik-fil-A provided lunch.

“New College Institute was delighted to be part of Patrick Henry Community College’s initiative to show our students the basic principles of science and what opportunities a STEM degree can produce in terms of a job,” said William Wampler, executive director of NCI. “The strongest point made today was not about colleges but when employers showed up to have lunch with the students. I think you saw great interest from employers and students.”

Steve Branch, dean of STEM at PHCC, stated in an email: “I have previewed the student evaluation forms, and almost 100 percent of the students indicated that STEM Day was enjoyable, informative and educational.”

PHCC President Dr. Angeline Godwin also was pleased with STEM Day. “Isn’t it wonderful? ... It’s a really exciting day,” she said as she and Wampler were on a tour with representatives of local industry and the EDC.

John Parkinson, chief executive officer of Drake Extrusion Inc., said, among other things, that he supports career readiness training because there is a huge difference between getting classroom education and being ready for work.

He said he was excited to get to talk with students at STEM Day about opportunities in high-tech manufacturing, which he said “is not dull and dirty.”


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