WVU Tech is once again listed on the top 100 undergraduate engineering programs on U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings list. Released today, the rankings list considers institutions, including military and private schools, that offer only bachelor’s or master’s degrees in engineering. The new rankings show that WVU Tech’s program is ranked #25 (tie) in the United States among public institutions.
“We’re beyond proud to find recognition among such well-known peer institutions. We know that this recognition comes from our students, graduates and faculty, who are out there doing quality work on a national level and living up to the standards we set for them here,” said Dr. Zeljko “Z” Torbica, dean of the Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and Sciences at WVU Tech.
The ranking is another high mark in the college’s push for national recognition as a top-quality engineering school. WVU Tech’s engineering faculty spend time outside the classroom promoting research in their fields (read more: wvu.tech/2c66Cvx). As part of that push, two members of the college were recently named Golden Bear Scholars in the university’s newest initiative to increase faculty engagement in research, scholarship and creativity (read more: wvu.tech/2cRALfv).
The university has also worked in recent years to increase the number of ABET-accredited programs within the college. With the addition of computer science to that list in 2015, the Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and Sciences now offers nine ABET-accredited engineering, engineering technology and computer science degree programs.
See U.S. News & World Report’s full 2017 rankings list at wvu.tech/2cnvXzg
WVU Tech’s faculty members are more than professors. They’re writers, artists, musicians and tinkerers with great stories to tell. They’re scientists and engineers with storied careers in the industries that run the world. When they’re not in the classroom, they’re sharing their work with the world.
That’s why WVU Tech created the Golden Bear Scholars program. The new program recognizes two faculty each academic year for their “exceptional record or nationally visible achievement in research, scholarship or creativity.”
This year, those scholars are Dr. Houbing Song, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Dr. Deborah Chun, assistant professor of mathematics.
Being selected as a Golden Bear Scholar means more than a title. Scholars receive an award of $2,500 that can be used towards research support, research salary or academic travel. (WVU Tech faculty members spend a lot of time sharing their work with the world read more about that on the Facultivities page.)
In addition to the funding award, selected professors are relieved of one course for the academic year, which means more time to spend on research projects.
Dr. Nigel Clark, provost at WVU Tech, said the program is part of the university’s push to keep faculty engaged in research initiatives.
“The Golden Bear Scholar program not only honors faculty, but provides resources to encourage scholarship in new areas and allows faculty to consider initiatives that involve several disciplines,” he said.
“Immersion in research creates teachers who are more current in their area and more connected with their field. It also boosts recognition of the institution great scholarship sets great universities apart,” he said.
Dr. Chun grew up in New Jersey and headed west to California, where she double-majored in mathematics and engineering at Harvey Mudd College. She landed a job working for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. after undergrad, but it wasn’t long until her fascination with solving puzzles got the best of her.
“While I was there, I found that I missed school, so I started taking classes at Johns Hopkins Whiting College. I completed a master’s degree in applied and computational mathematics, which made me realize there was more math that I wanted to learn,” she said.
Soon after, Chun enrolled in a Ph.D. program in mathematics at Louisiana State University. She finished her doctorate in 2011 and, ten days after she was awarded her degree, started teaching mathematics at WVU Tech.
“When I was looking for a job after my Ph.D.,” she said, “I was looking for somewhere that was a small school that focused on technical subjects somewhere like Harvey Mudd. I felt really lucky to find WVU Tech.”
At Tech, Chun has instructed almost every mathematics course the college offers. Her favorites? Discrete Mathematics and Probability and Statistics, because they work most closely with her interest area.
Her research focus is on matroid theory. It’s an area of deep mathematics that studies the properties of unique mathematical sets in vector spaces and impacts fields like coding theory and graph theory. Work in matroid theory feeds into the larger mathematics fields of combinatorics, which has applications in everything from computer science to engineering.
Chun plans to use her scholarship to focus on a few independent projects she’s working on, including collaborations with researchers at Wright State College in Ohio, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and the United States Naval Academy in Maryland.
She said the work will help keep her sharp in the field. It’s a sharpness she can use in the classroom.
“I think there are a lot of benefits to faculty engaging in research. Research helps me connect better to students. At the same time as my calculus students are struggling to understand new concepts in my course, I am struggling as fervently in my field,” she said.
“I expect my students to stay intellectually curious so I stay intellectually curious. And these are just side effects to the results produced along the way,” she said.
Dr. Song grew up in China, where he worked as an assistant research scientist and earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical engineering. Song came to the United States in 2005 to pursue a graduate degree in civil engineering in Texas. He earned his master’s and went on to complete his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Virginia.
Song was drawn to WVU Tech in 2012 after researching the university’s engineering programs. Now he teaches courses in signals and systems, communications systems and software tools.
When he’s not instructing, Song is a prolific researcher. His area of expertise is cyber-physical systems, an area of engineering design that integrates software and hardware so that operating systems like those found in smart grids, robotics and transportation work seamlessly. It’s an emerging field that Song said holds immense potential to change lives.
“This will drive innovation in sectors such as transportation, energy, healthcare, building design and automation, agriculture and manufacturing,” he said.
Song is currently working on a number of projects involving the design and verification of various cyber-physical systems in transportation, healthcare and energy. In addition to designing these systems, he also has a special interest in the ever-evolving issues of cybersecurity and privacy.
He said he plans to use his time as a Golden Bear Scholar to develop several grant proposals to federal agencies and to find ways to engage with other researchers on collaboration in the field.
“This support grants faculty the time and resources to undertake exploratory investigations, acquire and test preliminary data, develop collaborations within or across research disciplines, which may lead to improved capacity to write successful proposals in the future,” he said.
He also plans to continue his work promoting the field of CPS. Song participates regularly in National Science Foundation workshops and events covering cyber-physical systems. He’s served as an expert panelist in conferences throughout the nation and organized a number of workshops on the subject.
A widely published scholar in the field, Song is attached to a broad range of peer-reviewed publications and books on CPS. He has also served as guest editor for several scholarly journals on the subject. You can see more of his work on his SONG Lab website.
Song said he’s also excited about the potential for the Golden Bear Scholars program to keep faculty engaged.
“By encouraging and supporting faculty to conduct extraordinary research, the Golden Bear Scholars Program is expected to stimulate faculty research activities across Tech and attract more exceptionally talented students,” he said.
WVU Tech’s faculty members are dedicated to the advancement of the fields they teach. Outside of the classroom, they’re researchers, writers, presenters, go-to experts and road warriors who share their passion for learning with the world.
Here’s what our faculty members have been up to:
Anthony Amendarez (Music) premiered his film “Who Am I” on Wednesday, August 31 at the Huntington Music and Arts Festival during the 72-hour-film challenge.
Dr. Deborah Chun (Math), co-organized the session “Matroid Theory” for SIAM’s Discrete Mathematics conference in Atlanta, Georgia in June. Dr. Chun was also selected as one of WVU Tech’s first Golden Bear Scholars.
Dr. Tyler “John” Moss (Math) presented a paper on June 8 entitled “Bicircular matroids representable over GF(4) or GF(5)” at the SIAM Discrete Mathematics conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
Dr. Houbing Song (Electrical and Computer Engineering) collaborated on and published seven peer-reviewed journal papers, two peer-reviewed conference papers and one editorial. His publications were featured in IEEE Communications Magazine; Neurocomputing; Personal and Ubiquitous Computing; Future Generation Computer Systems; IET Image Processing; Security and Communication Networks; Applications, Systems and Engineering Technologies; IEEE Access; and the 2016 IEEE 29th International Symposium on Computer-Based Medical Systems.
In addition, he was selected by IEEE Access as the Associate Editor of the Month for June 2016. He served as the general chair of the International Workshop on Big Data Analytics for Smart and Connected Health in Washington, D.C. on June 27-29, 2016. Dr. Song was also selected as one of WVU Tech’s first Golden Bear Scholars.
Explore more faculty work at wvutech.edu/facultivities.
On Tuesday, August 23, representatives from WVU Tech, West Virginia University and L&S Toyota met on the grounds of the L&S dealership in Beckley, West Virginia.
The event brought together Shawn Ball, owner and general manager of L&S, WVU president Gordon Gee and WVU Tech campus president Carolyn Long. The trio exchanged a check to acknowledge and celebrate financial contributions from the Ball family totaling $110,000 in scholarship funds for resident students earning their degrees at WVU Tech on the Beckley campus.
In 2015, the Ball family donated $50,000 to establish two endowed scholarships for both WVU Tech engineering and nursing students in Beckley. This academic year, the Ball family has contributed an additional $50,000 to those endowments, plus $10,000 for general scholarship funds for West Virginia students.
“We want to be supportive of WVU Tech coming to Beckley. That’s the biggest thing,” said Ball.
“It’s a very, very important thing for this town. We need it. We’ve had a decline in coal jobs. We’ve had a decline in jobs period. It’s important right now that we have something that we can rely on. We’re going to be creating a workforce. Hopefully, we’re going to have businesses follow, and so West Virginia University coming in is huge.”
Tuesday’s check presentation recognized the sum of L&S’s investments in the students of WVU Tech in Beckley. Gee said the investment marked the beginning of an era of new and longstanding relationships between the WVU system and the businesses and industries of the region.
“I believe that our opportunity to come to Beckley and have a wonderful campus here will be one of the most transformative activities undertaken by the University in the state forever,” said President Gee.
“This helps us it does more than help us but the spirit of this family is what really helps us. He didn’t have to do this. He did this because he believes in his community,” he said.
For Long, the day’s activities were an extension of the warm welcome WVU Tech has experienced in Beckley. She said the contributions to the students in the region would have a far-reaching impact.
“I can’t begin to say how much we appreciate them for what they’re doing and the difference they will make in a student’s life. When we make a difference for a student in a positive manner, we make a difference in the town of Beckley, in the state of West Virginia and in our country,” she said.
During the event, Ball announced the winners of L&S Toyota’s recent Facebook student essay challenge, where the company asked college students from the region to write about their plans to better the communities where they live and work. Students Logan Crowe and Jonathan Duesing took third and second place, respectively, taking home monetary prizes for their work.
WVU nursing student Jessie Kuhn was selected as the winner of the challenge. The Beckley area native was awarded a 2016 Toyota Yaris subcompact, valued at $18,000. Kuhn said that the vehicle will help her travel to complete her nursing clinicals and visit home more often.
Ball also announced the presentation of $20,000 to the United Way of Southern West Virginia. The donation includes a $10,000 donation from L&S and an additional $10,000 through Toyota’s dealer match program.
For more information or to contribute to WVU Tech scholarships, contact Susan Shew, Development Director at WVU Tech, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304.442.1078.
It’s been a busy week for new WVU Tech students. They braved 90-degree heat to move into residence halls on Saturday. That afternoon, they attended the university’s official convocation ceremony with more than 300 fellow newcomers, family and friends.
In the days since, they have participated in dozens of events, explored campus, met with staff members, purchased books, smiled for student ID photos and spent their free time getting their proverbial collegiate ducks in a row.
It would have been easy to call it a day on Tuesday, the last day of WVU Tech’s orientation program and the day before school started for all students in the WVU system. No one would blame a new student for wanting to kick off their shoes and spend the day relaxing, but that’s not what they did on their last day of the summer.
Instead, more than 80 new WVU Tech students from both campuses laced up their shoes, rolled up their sleeves and traveled a combined 230 miles to lend their time in service projects aimed at helping those impacted by recent flooding in Southern West Virginia.
They called the project Golden Bears Give Back.
“The WVU Tech community has a long history of volunteerism and service,” said Candice Stadler, director of Career Services at WVU Tech and service project organizer.
“The Golden Bears Give Back project communicates to students that as a member of the WVU Tech community, we expect you to be academically, socially and civically engaged.”
On Tuesday morning, 20 student volunteers gathered in the old Magic Mart in Belle, West Virginia. Inside they found a sprawling warehouse packed with toiletries, cleaning supplies, clothing, water, furniture and other provisions destined for flood relief agencies.
Within minutes, those 20 students were cleaning the loading dock for new deliveries, checking and assembling donated furniture and testing small appliances like lamps and irons.
“We thought it was important for the institution to give back after the flooding because so many of our students, their friends and families were impacted,” said Scott Robertson, Assistant Dean of Students for TRIO programs at WVU Tech.
“Those impacted people have had a hard time getting back on their feet and we want to make sure that they understand that the WVU Tech family appreciates and cares for them,” he said.
Volunteers also spent time putting together family kits bundles of basic cleaning supplies and other household essentials for displaced families living in temporary FEMA housing.
David Hoge, director of the Homeland Security State Administrative Agency in the department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, is currently overseeing the distribution center. He said he was pleased to see so many college students getting involved.
“I think when you help someone else who has experienced a disaster, it helps you appreciate the generosity of our society and it helps you understand some things that you personally can do to be more prepared,” he said.
“This is also a great experience for new college students. Being able to find ways to meaningfully engage with the community is such a productive thing to do at that stage,” he said.
Among the young students finding that sense of community engagement in Belle was Austin Nettleton, a cross-country runner and Athletic Coaching Education major from Seattle, Washington. He said that moving from the big city meant he didn’t know anyone yet, but that the project was a great way to find a place in his new community.
The group also brought along upperclassmen like junior forensics major Tyeshea White. The New York native served as an orientation leader and plans to put the skills she’s learning to work in the United States Army.
The project garnered support from local students, too. Mary Morrison is a chemical engineering student from Huntington. As a West Virginian, she said getting involved was personal.
“We’re helping these people out because it’s the right thing to do. I got involved because I live here and this means a lot to me to see people here who are actually helping. They’re helping my people,” she said.
In White Sulphur Springs, students spent their time in the sun, stooping to uproot weeds or dropping handfuls of collected river stones into plastic buckets. This group worked on a number of locations in the town, which had been severely impacted by the flooding in June.
The volunteers split up into groups to clean debris and restore community spaces. They removed thousands of stones from baseball fields that sat under six feet of floodwater. They cleaned out a community garden space that had been damaged in the floods, tearing out old fencing and planting beds, cutting away damaged bushes and spreading new mulch.
That focus on community spaces was intentional.
“It was an opportunity for us to bring back a little normalcy for people in the area,” said Stadler. “Even now, they’re trying to get back on their feet, so this helps to make things look a little more normal for folks. It’s a way to reach out and help them where we can.”
Nicolas Binfield came to WVU Tech from from Cleveland, Ohio. He’s studying environmental engineering technology and has a passion for environmental work. He said he was glad to see so many people his age spending time on the project.
“It makes the community look better and, hopefully, that will make some people in the community feel better. It lets the community know that people still care about them and that we’re thinking of them every day and that they’re not alone in this world after such a devastating tragedy,” he said.
The service project is a new component of the orientation program at WVU Tech. Driven by stories of West Virginians rising up to meet the needs of those impacted by June’s flooding, the department of Student Life worked with the West Virginia University Center for Service and Learning and local contacts to find areas of need that students could address.
“This is the beginning of our developing an enriched culture of service on our campus,” said WVU Tech dean of students, Richard Carpinelli.
“We wanted to get new students used to the concept. There will be many more opportunities now for new students and for everyone in the WVU Tech community for projects that can give people hope and that can help in times of need. This is important to us,” he said.
For Stadler, students experience the sense of community that comes with his kind of service, but they also learn skills and develop civic mindsets that can change their careers.
“Volunteerism engages students in our campus and community. The experiences associated with volunteerism build civic engagement skills as well as assist students in identifying career goals,” she said.
“We would like for students to begin engaging in experiences early on in their career at WVU Tech, so that they have an opportunity to build their resume, fulfill requirements for service and develop career and self-awareness.”
Hilary Tepdjip Padjip, a junior civil engineering major from Cameroon, watched the new students tackle the projects with enthusiasm. As an upperclassmen, she sees the value in getting to work at an early stage of the college experience.
“It’s one thing to be in a classroom or studying, but then it’s another thing to be in the field, so students getting involved have a way of seeing what’s it’s like to be coordinating and working on actual projects in the real world,” she said.
Stadler said the project would not have been possible without support from Student Life staff members and WVU Tech Dining Services. WVU Tech’s athletics department was also crucial in arranging travel for the volunteers.
In all, the group completed more than 250 hours of service, which will count toward WVU’s Million Hour Match service project. The service initiative tasks the WVU community with completing a million hours of community service by 2018 and challenges West Virginia residents to do the same.
On Saturday, August 13, more than 300 WVU Tech students, staff, faculty, friends and family gathered in Montgomery for the institution’s 2016 convocation ceremony.
The ceremony served as the official welcome for new students from both the Montgomery and Beckley campuses. It also marked the start of WVU Tech three-day orientation program.
In the Baisi gymnasium, campus president Carolyn Long addressed the crowd, offering words of encouragement and advising them to use their time at WVU Tech to find what makes them happiest.
“This is a campus of diverse young men and women and you’re going to learn alongside one another in the years ahead,” she said.
“Many of you will go down paths you never envisioned. My advice to you is that, whatever path you choose, it’s got to be something you have a passion for.”
Dean of students Richard Carpinelli told new students many of whom had just spent the afternoon moving into their residence hall rooms on both campuses that they were part of a new collegiate family.
“For many of you, your journey at Tech may be your first time away from home. And while this may be your first time away from home, know that you are not alone. You are now a member of an academic community that cares about you,” he said.
Miriam Cortez, a first-year biology student from Houston, Texas, said had already experienced that family atmosphere for attending convocation.
Cortez spent the previous week on the Beckley campus training for pre-season with the women’s soccer team. She’s been pleased with her experience working with the university and meeting fellow students.
“It’s like they’re introducing us to the school. The coaches are helpful and they bond with us really well. Everybody here has been really nice. They’re good people and they want to make sure we’re all set for the year,” she said.
Michael McKay, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and a business owner from Cumberland, Maryland, visited campus with his son, Mason. The younger McKay starts his career in civil engineering at WVU Tech this semester.
Michael said his son was attracted to the low student-to-faculty ratio and the national rankings of the university’s engineering programs.
“He was looking for a smaller school. He came from a smaller school setting. He really missed the one-on-one attention and so he was excited about coming here,” he said.
McKay said that traveling into Southern West Virginia, an area known for its coal industry and for the hardworking nature of its people, was symbolic of the experience he expects for Mason.
“Coming from Western Maryland, we have an emphasis on being hardworking,” he said. “I think WVU Tech is going to work very, very hard to put out a quality student.”
During orientation, new students will participate in a number of activities and events designed to get them accustomed to college life and familiar with campus. They attend sessions on academic policies and procedures, managing college stress, campus safety, career readiness and even finance management. They mingle with other newcomers at social events, order books, meet with academic advisors and register for classes.
The program is a welcome to WVU Tech and a welcome home for Will Van Hoose, an incoming freshman with an eye on a mechanical engineering degree and a spot on the WVU Tech wrestling team.
Van Hoose grew up in Ravenswood, West Virginia and moved to South Carolina a few years before graduating high school. Now he’s back in the Mountain State where he’s preparing to launch a career in the racing industry.
“The engineering program at WVU Tech was a big draw for me and I also get the opportunity to wrestle, so it’s perfect. I want to become a mechanical engineer and then I want to go into NASCAR and work as a team engineer. They work on the body and engine to fine-tune the car for each individual track it will race on” he said.
He said he’s excited for the coming days as he becomes acquainted with the campus and meets other students in the program.
“As I’m going through orientation, I’m learning how the flow of campus works and it’ll make getting through the transition from high school to college a little easier,” he said.
Orientation runs until Tuesday, August 16. On the last day of the program, new students will travel in groups to White Sulphur Springs and Belle, West Virginia to assist in flood relief service projects. In Belle, students will assemble furniture donated to flood victims while students in White Sulphur Springs will help with a cleanup and rehabilitation project.
On Saturday, August 6 at around 2:30 p.m., more than 100 new WVU Tech students gathered at center court in the Van Meter Gymnasium on the University’s Beckley campus. The students were still two weeks away from officially starting their academic careers, but that afternoon, they were already working as a team.
When Associate Dean of Students Emily Sands yelled “ships,” the students walked in one direction. At the cry of “islands,” the laughing crowd shifted, awkwardly bumping into one another and helping others to reverse course as quickly as possible. When Sands called out phrases like “man overboard” or “walk the plank,” the crowd scattered to act out each command in groups. Those students who didn’t find a group fast enough were out.
Sands called the game “Ships and Islands,” and it served as an effective ice-breaker for the students who attended the University’s first orientation program on the Beckley campus.
The six-hour program is designed to connect students to university resources and familiarize them with campus in preparation for the start of classes on Wednesday, August 17.
New students met with orientation leaders who walked them through common college situations, academic policies and campus resources. Orientation leaders also led students on individualized tours to familiarize them with where they would need to be for the first day of classes.
For Scarlett Farley, an incoming criminal justice major from Beckley, the program was a chance to get a leg up on that first week of classes.
“It’s comforting to know that when I start classes here, I’ll be a little bit more comfortable than I would not coming to orientation. I know where I’m going and where to find what I need,” she said.
Psychology student Brandon Raywarwick said he was impressed with the campus accommodations, particularly the single rooms students will enjoy in the residence halls. Raywarwick said he wants to go into psychology to help children and that he’s excited to learn in the Beckley campus environment.
“It’s just a really good university. The people here are really energetic and positive. Everyone’s been helpful. I guess they’re really preparing me for being away from home for the first time and to be ready for the classes,” he said.
Halee Harrah drove in for orientation from Meadow Bridge, West Virginia. The incoming biology student said she wants to go into pediatric medicine and that she’s excited to start her higher education career close to home.
“I don’t really want to go far away from home because I get homesick. I still want to be part of West Virginia University, but I don’t want to go all the way to Morgantown,” she said. “The Beckley location is a lot more accessible for me. It’s also smaller, so I like that about it.”
Harrah said she was nervous about splitting off from her high school friends, but that she feels comfortable tackling the college experience at WVU Tech’s new campus.
“It’s a lot easier getting everything lined up than I thought it would be. I feel like my schedule is going to work out really well. All of the buildings are close and all of my classes are in the same two buildings,” she said.
Wyoming County native Matthew Perry starts at WVU Tech in August. The civil engineering student spent the afternoon pantomiming “man overboard” with his fellow newcomers and learning about campus resources.
“I’ll be spending time on both campuses, really. I have a drafting class one day a week in Montgomery, but the rest of the time I’ll be here,” he said.
Matthew’s mother, Mona, said the family has been along for every step of Matthew’s college prep. They’ve toured both campuses and attended a variety of registrations and other events. Perry said she’s been pleased with her interactions with the University during the process.
“They were helpful in working out his schedule so he could start here. We feel very comfortable sending him here. Now it’s on him because he’s the one who is going to have to do all the hard work to accomplish his goals,” she said.
Matthew’s father, Keith, earned his electrical engineering degree at WVU Tech. He didn’t hesitate at the thought of sending his own son into an engineering program at the University.
“When you get out into the industry and people find out you’re from Tech, you’re good to go,” he said.
Parents and family members like the Perrys attended a session to learn about what to expect in the academic year ahead. They spent the afternoon meeting with University representatives and exploring campus resources.
Rebecca Keaton and her family brought her son Luke to orientation. Luke will start his degree in history and government on the Beckley campus. For mom, it’s the best of both worlds.
“It’s nice to have him at home, but he can still take part in things such as the Tech Adventures program. He plans to do that and to join various groups on campus so he can live at home yet still be active on campus as well and have that exposure to campus life,” she said.
Keaton said her family is excited about the new campus. Her husband, a WVU Tech alumnus, is part-owner of a local engineering firm and is looking to build a relationship with the University. She also said that there is exciting economic potential for the region and the campus alike.
“I just think this is going to be a positive for this campus. There are a lot of good things that this town has to offer. It’s going to help the community drastically, too. The businesses in this area and the people that own little mom-and-pop shops around will see an increase in business,” she said.
In the evening, students enjoyed dinner in the Bears Den and wrote thank you notes to first responders who contributed to flood relief efforts throughout Southern West Virginia.
Beckley students will join the rest of the student body on the Montgomery campus on Saturday, August 13 for the University’s official convocation ceremony. The ceremony is part of a three-day orientation program on the Montgomery campus.
In late July, a group of high school girls gathered in Montgomery for WVU Tech’s second STEM Summer Academy for Girls. The goal? Explore STEM fields and meet some of the women shaping these fields in the Mountain State.
The program offers students a weeklong immersion in STEM experimentation, career exploration and interactions with STEM professionals. It also provides students with a true college experience. They live on campus, attend college-level courses and maintain the schedule of a typical college student.
The Academy marked a nearly 50% growth attendance over last’s year launch of the program, bringing in more than 30 girls from as far as the Eastern Panhandle. The majority of the students were freshman and sophomores, and thanks to funding from Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, each student was able to attend this year’s Academy at no cost.
“A lot of these girls are low-income or first-generation college students. ASEE data shows that many of the girls going into STEM fields have a parent or mentor from a STEM background. Most of these girls do not have that influence, so it’s important for women like us to meet with them and help them explore their options,” said Dr. Afrin Naz, assistant professor of computer science and information systems at WVU Tech and coordinator of the Academy.
Toyota sent a group of students from families employed by the company. Naz also worked with Toyota and an organization in Charleston to increase diversity among the group in a partnership that recruited African American students from the Charleston area to participate in the Academy.
“Research shows that offering girls a chance to learn in this type of all-female environment is very effective. The format allows us to target issues specific to girls and to address concerns that girls have in an environment where everyone feels comfortable,” said Naz.
Ninth-grader Mikayla Toppins, 14, learned about the program from a counselor at Lincoln County High School. She said she found the idea of an all-girls camp appealing. She wants to be a physical therapist, but now she also has an interest in closing the gender gap in STEM fields.
“I thought being in a camp with all girls would be better because they focus on more on what matters to us. There aren’t as many girls in STEM. Girls also get paid less than guys do. By getting girls more into the workforce, maybe we can change this,” she said.
WVU Tech psychology student Jasmine Flanigan served as a counselor for the Academy. With counselor experience in both all-girls and co-ed camps, she said she sees the value in the Academy’s female-only format.
“It really does provide a different learning environment with less pressure. These girls are all here for the same reason. They want to be here and learn everything that every professor is offering to them,” she said.
A major component of the Academy’s mission involves putting students face-to-face with women who are working in STEM fields. The Academy held a number of industry sessions, where representatives from companies and organizations shared their stories with students.
One of those professionals was Penny Potocki, an Engineering Specialist at Toyota. She studied electrical engineering and uses her education and training to keep operation lines and processes at the facility running safely and efficiently.
Potocki has been an engineer for 18 years and joined the company just over a year ago. Even so, she said Toyota is the first place she’s worked where she’s not the only female engineer.
“Nowadays, there is more and more encouragement for these young girls to go into STEM fields, so I find myself wanting to get involved in that to show them that we do exist out in the field, that we’re out here and that there are already people out there doing what these girls are interested in,” she said.
The Dow Chemical Company in South Charleston sent a group of employees and interns to work with students on experiments in thermodynamics, fluid flow, chemical reactions, viscosity and physics. During another industry session, two female representatives from the West Virginia Manufacturers Association showcased some of the materials and products manufactured in West Virginia.
The group also used software to show the students the types of STEM careers they could pursue that would meets the needs of their proposed lifestyles.
“They asked them where they wanted to live, whether they wanted a house or apartment and what kind of car they want to drive,” said Naz. “Then they showed them the types of careers that would allow them to do that. They emphasized education throughout and showed the girls that they could find this type of jobs with the proper education.”
In Charleston, Academy students toured the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences and met with Robin Sizemore, Science Coordinator at the West Virginia Department of Education.
“She spent two hours interacting with the girls. She shared her life story starting at their age, and explained the struggles she had to go through balancing her education and career with family. She showed the girls that they can do anything they want,” said Naz.
For some students, the experience of connecting with professionals served as an affirmation for the career choices they already had in mind.
Anniah Jackson, of Charleston, wants to be a nurse. The 17 year old was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and undergoes regular treatments. She said these treatments have sparked an attraction to the medical field.
“I have to travel to Ohio every six weeks for treatment, but that’s better than scarfing down twelve pills every morning,” she said.
“I get to learn stuff there. I’m fascinated with the process and I always have millions of questions, but they’re always happy to answer them for me. That has inspired me to want to help others. I like being around people. I like helping people. I think that’s something I could do.”
During the week, Jackson was able to examine cheek cells under a microscope and meet with nursing professionals to ask questions about the field. She said these experiences helped solidify her desire to go into medicine.
Naz said that learning about STEM fields and uncovering future career possibilities is more effective when students can articulate why they want to follow a certain path. To that end, she said the program is designed to incorporate the whole family. Students don’t simply absorb the lessons of the Academy they have to share what they’ve learned throughout the week.
Students were asked to put together a presentation about what they were learning. Naz added new requirements and challenges to the presentation each day to keep students engaged and actively thinking about what they had experienced. At the end of the program, students shared their findings with their parents.
“Parents always have some input into the career decision,” said Naz. “Educating the parent, especially if the student is first-generation, is important because they play this important role in the paths their children take. Most people have no idea about some of the wonderful STEM jobs in West Virginia, so showing them that their children can follow their interests and make a good living helps in that decision making process.”
All told, Naz said she’s pleased with the outcome of this year’s Academy, and left the students with some parting advice:
“If you need help, there are females in these fields that are willing to help. You’re not alone. You need information about your future. Know and plan and be ready for the world. That’s the message we are looking for here,” she said.
WVU Tech’s Upward Bound program has been in operation for more than five decades. The federally funded TRIO program keeps high school students engaged throughout the school year and culminates in a six-week, on-campus summer program.
This year’s summer class includes more than 40 students from Clay County High School, Riverside High School in Kanawha County and all five high schools in Fayette County.
During the program, students take a series of core classes science, math, reading and language arts, literature, history and foreign language and are able to choose electives in fields ranging from healthy eating and personal finance to geocaching and theater.
“Classes are all about enrichment. They’re not remedial. This is designed to engage these students and keep them focused academically,” said Jennifer Bunner, director of the Upward Bound program at WVU Tech.
Students vote on a theme for each summer program. Last year’s theme was super heroes. This year, students swapped their capes for cloaks in favor of a Harry Potter theme for the session.
Elements of J.K. Rowling’s popular series were woven into the entire session experience. Invitations were delivered by owl (in the form of a puppet), students were divided into “houses,” classwork incorporated themes from the story and students even competed in a Quidditch tournament on Martin Field.
Students also participated in a number of outings. They explored Charleston and Beckley. They rode an Amtrak train into White Sulphur Springs, visited Lost World caverns and attended a showing of Theatre West Virginia’s “Hatfields and McCoys” at the Grandview Cliffside Amphitheatre.
Jacob Rogers, 16, will start his senior year at Riverside High School in the fall. This is his second year in the program, and he said he came back for the atmosphere and activities.
“It feels like a family here. Everyone here is really accepting and loving. We’ve been doing a lot of activities and taking a lot of great trips. It’s been really fun this year,” he said.
The group also toured West Liberty University, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic medicine in Lewisburg and WVU Tech’s Beckley campus. Students also traveled to West Virginia University’s campus in Morgantown to participate in the Upward Bound Olympics.
“I want to attend college,” said Rogers. “I think that’s why Upward Bound is so great. It gives me options that I can explore and decide how I want to go about doing it. I want to help people, whatever I do, so seeing different schools and programs where I can do that was nice.”
Megan Yeager, of Belle, West Virginia, said she appreciates the program’s non-competitive learning environment.
“Part of the reason I love it so much is because there’s no push to be the best. It’s stress-free and you can focus on what you want to,” she said.
The 16-year-old said Upward Bound has also been a confidence booster.
“The most important thing I’ve learned so far is that to really be comfortable in a place, you have to talk to people. I feel like this year I’m more comfortable with who I am and I think that experience will let me help other people in the program,” she said.
For Bunner, that atmosphere is crucial to the summer program’s goals.
“It prepares them to leave home and to be comfortable in that situation. They’re staying in the residence halls, they have a roommate, they have to keep their own schedules and make it to classes on time. They have to be independent, living on their own like the real college experience,” she said.
Another important aspect of the summer session involves community engagement. Bunner said that includes everything from exploring the community’s businesses and entertainment to volunteering for community service projects.
“I want them to think about becoming engaged in those communities. There are organizations and causes in those communities that they can be a part of, and if they can learn how to find those opportunities, they’ll be comfortable seeking them out when they’re out in the real world” said Bunner.
Students took that engagement mentality to heart in late June. When Southern West Virginia was devastated by historically severe flooding, students turned their attention to helping in any way they could.
They spent one Friday night packing toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo, diapers and nonperishable food items into grocery bags.
The next day, students delivered items to two shelters in Ansted, West Virginia, where hundreds of displaced families were staying. Students entertained children at the shelters with face painting, sidewalk chalk and Frisbee games. They helped distribute meals, clean up at the shelters and take care of pets.
“They were touched and they really stepped up to do what they could for these people,” said Bunner.
“They visited with people and spent time with them. Listened to their stories. One student was so moved that she donated some of her own clothes that she brought to campus. The whole group pulled together, and it was wonderful to see,” she said.
The group wrapped up their campus stay with an awards ceremony on Friday, July 8. Family members joined Upward Bound students to hear about their experiences during the first five weeks of the program.
Smithers resident Scott Wills said Upward Bound has had a positive impact on David, his youngest son. David, 17, is heading into his senior year of high school and has been in the program since he was a freshman.
“He loves the program. He talks about it all the time. It encourages him to better himself, to do better. It’s helped him a lot along the way. I’ve seen how it’s helped some of his friends, too,” said Wills. “That is something I know he’ll never forget.”
The summer program includes a travel week. Next week, the group is heading to New England.
Students will tour Fairfield University in Connecticut; visit an art museum in Providence, Rhode Island; walk the Freedom Trail in Boston; visit the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Massachusetts; tour lighthouses along the coast of Maine; and visit a water park in Lincoln, New Hampshire. On their trip north, the group will also visit the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia.
Yeager said she’s looking forward to the trip, and that she would recommend the Upward Bound experience to other students.
“That’s what I would tell people about Upward Bound. It’s really worth it. If you’re considering it, do it,” she said.
WVU Tech is pleased to announce the addition of Susan Shew, Director of Development, to the University’s executive team.
Shew joined WVU Tech in late June. In her new role, she will oversee fundraising efforts and foster new and existing relationships with alumni and supporters of the University to enhance the student and faculty experience at WVU Tech.
She brings with her a decade of development experience. Shew served as the development manager for College Summit in Charleston for seven years. She began working with the American Red Cross in 2012 as a major gifts officer. She then moved into the role of regional volunteer officer, where she provided human resources support for Red Cross volunteers across West Virginia.
At WVU Tech, Shew will work with alumni and donors to raise financial support for faculty initiatives and programs that that offer students new opportunities on both the Montgomery and Beckley campuses.
“Susan’s background in development and in higher education make her a great fit for WVU Tech,” said Campus President Carolyn Long.
“She’s passionate about her work, she understands the needs of West Virginia’s college students and she knows the value of building strong partnerships. We’re so glad to have her on board,” said Long.
Shew said she is eager to begin and that she plans to establish partnerships that impact students at all stages.
“I’m excited to begin working on relationships that create scholarships for WVU Tech students scholarships that can boost student recruitment and retention. I’m also interested in generating funding and others forms of support for student-focused programming that extends beyond the university, like Camp STEM and our K-12 outreach initiatives,” she said.
“There is an opportunity to build partnerships here that will benefit the WVU Tech community for years to come. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can encourage that kind of growth,” she said.
Shew is a member of the Volunteer West Virginia, Inc. board of directors, an alumna of Leadership West Virginia and an American Red Cross volunteer. She holds a bachelor’s in business administration and a master’s in industrial relations and human resources management, both from West Virginia University.