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Students embrace STEM during recent programs
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Eastman Chemical Co. engineers Eric Ritchson and Frances Schantz (right) talk with students at Martinsville Middle School recently during a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Day program. The event was part of National Engineers Week Feb. 16-22. In all, engineering professionals presented programs to more than 700 sixth-graders in Martinsville and Henry County schools during or near National Engineers Week, according to a news release from New College Institute and Steve Keyser, NCI coordinator of community engagement. (Bulletin photo)
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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville Middle School students recently got a taste of what it’s like to be a professional engineer.

“I might like engineering. It would be fun. You could create things,” MMS student Adrieana Kirby said after listening to an interactive presentation by two engineers.

The event was STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Day for sixth-graders at MMS as part of National Engineers Week.

Adrieana said she enjoyed hearing engineers Eric Ritchson and Coray Davis discuss what they do and how much money starting engineers make. She said she learned engineering requires a lot of math (and science).

Adrieana’s favorite part of the program was a short video near the end in which engineering students discussed projects they hope to pursue, such as designing prosthetics for athletes or net-zero housing (a home that produces as much energy as it consumes) or power systems for spacecraft.

Sixth-grader Adrianna Minter said she liked learning about various types of engineering, the good pay and the importance of being a good student now to prepare for college and career. She also liked that the engineers asked students lots of questions to get them to think, and she enjoyed seeing Ritchson explain how window film is made, she said. Ritchson is department manager, coating and laminating, at Eastman.

The event was in the MMS media center for the approximately 160 sixth-graders, who came in during their science classes. Laurie Ashworth is the sixth-grade science teacher and team leader for the Tarantulas, and Joe Carter is the sixth-grade science teacher and team leader for the Alligators.

Ritchson and Davis operated as a tag team, of sorts, with Ritchson focusing more on the nuts and bolts of his job and other aspects of engineering and Davis focusing more on the academic preparation needed to become an engineer.

Both Ritchson and Davis began the 2 p.m. class by telling about themselves. Growing up, Ritchson became interested in engineering when he heard he could make good money as an engineer, he said. Davis said his interest in engineering dated to when he was growing up, being curious and trying to fix things that were broken.

Both talked about their educations. Ritchson earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering, he said. Davis earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, a master’s degree in transportation and a doctorate in civil engineering, according to his résumé on the Virginia State University website.

Both were college athletes (Ritchson in track and Davis in basketball). Davis said he could have played professional basketball overseas but decided to continue studying engineering. He stressed the importance of keeping options open in life.

Davis worked several years professionally as a civil engineer designing traffic signals — which also required knowledge of computers, he told the children — and now is an associate professor of mechanical engineering technology at Virginia State University and program director of the Academy of Engineering Technology, New College Institute, according to Davis and the VSU website.

Ritchson asked the children questions to help them understand how window film is made. He held up a piece of clear film and asked if it was ready to be used for car window film.

“No,” children said.

“Why not?” he asked.

“There’s no color in the film,” children responded.

“Why do you need color in the film?”

“To keep out the sun.”

“Why do you want to keep out the sun?” Ritchson asked.

“To not get hot, to reduce chances of skin cancer, for privacy, for security,” children responded.

Ritchson held up a piece of film that was dark. How did the color get in the film? Was it painted? No, paint could drip or come off. One child said the film is dyed. Ritchson said chemicals are mixed to get dyes in many colors.

Question by question, Ritchson explained clear film is dipped in a hot bath with dye. After the dying, glue is applied to the film then a liner added that can be peeled off the glue. Scratch resistance is applied. Film is made in rolls eight miles long but sold in 100-foot lengths.

Average starting salaries with a bachelor’s degree in 2012 ranged from a high of $70,400 for computer engineering to a low of $57,600 for civil engineering, according to a chart shown during the presentation.

Another slide gave tips for youngsters considering engineering: excel in science and math; practice problem solving; learn the scientific method; ask why a lot; cultivate a curiosity about how things work; etc.

In all, engineering professionals are presenting programs for more than 700 sixth-graders in Martinsville and Henry County schools during or near National Engineers Week (Feb. 16-22), according to a news release from New College Institute and Steve Keyser, NCI coordinator of community engagement.

Katie Croft, NCI coordinator of experiential learning, added, “Choosing sixth-graders to visit was an important choice to make because this is an age when students really start to think about their career possibilities and begin asking themselves, ‘What do I like to do?’ and ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’”

Twenty-five expert engineers from Eastman Chemical Co., Commonwealth Laminating & Coating Inc., eBay Enterprise and NCI Academy for Engineering & Technology were visiting the schools, the release stated.


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