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.
Nearly 40 high school students from throughout the state visited WVU Tech’s Montgomery campus for the popular Camp STEM program, June 19-24.
The week-long camp is designed as an immersion experience that introduces students to STEM concepts and encourages career exploration in STEM fields.
At Camp STEM, students took courses in robotics, biology, mathematics, forensic science, computer science and various engineering disciplines. They heard from guest speakers in the energy, chemical and robotics industries. They conducted experiments, designed and tested canoes made of cardboard, investigated mock crime scenes, conducted engineering surveys and learned about medical careers.
For Dalton Hill, 15, Camp STEM was an eye-opener.
“I decided to come here to get more exposure as to what career options I would like to take in the future,” Hill said.
The Wyoming County 10th-grader is leaning towards math or science as he considers college. He said the experience has introduced him to fields he never considered.
“We learned about computer programming. The 3D designing really caught my interest. It was something that I had never done before and I didn’t really think of it as a potential interest, but I liked it a lot,” he said.
As a major component of career exploration, Camp STEM attendees also have to opportunity to experience college life during the program. They live in residence halls on campus, attend college-style courses and eat their meals in the University’s dining hall. They also spend the week interacting with counselors, who are all current WVU Tech STEM students.
Counselor Gregory Hughes is starting his sophomore year as a computer science major at WVU Tech in August. He said he is excited to be a part of the program because he’s interested in how the University can reach out to young students who might not realize their potential in STEM fields.
“Working with the students is a good way to help them learn about what they’ll be doing in college. Because we have counselors from a bunch of different majors, we can also answer questions a bit differently that a professor might be able to. We have a different point of view and we come from a lot of different backgrounds,” he said.
During the camp, students also participated in a daylong field trip. Groups zip-lined, went whitewater rafting and visited the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.
Katie Payne came to Camp STEM from Clay County. The 11th-grader said she was surprised by how instructors tied STEM learning into every activity.
“On our rafting trip, they talked about how the water currents move, which was really interesting because now I can see the science of how the current makes the river work like it does. I expected to just go rafting and not really learn anything. It was really, really cool,” she said.
The camp wrapped up on Friday afternoon with a family picnic, where parents attended a presentation about the week’s activities and what their students had learned during the camp.
Camp STEM is made possible by the generous support of the AEP Foundation and AT&T.
View this year’s camp photos and photos from previous years at campstem.wvutech.edu/camp-photos.
On Saturday, June 18, more than 50 incoming students and their families gathered at WVU Tech in Beckley for new student registration.
Attendees met in WVU Tech’s Carter Hall for a general information session where they heard from Campus President Carolyn Long; Richard Carpinelli, Dean of Students; and Kelly Hudgins, director of WVU Tech’s Student Success Center.
Carpinelli kicked off the day by asking the crowd where they were from. Most reported visiting from Raleigh and Fayette counties.
“It’s an interesting dynamic for students at WVU Tech,” Carpinelli said. “We may be a small campus, but we represent more than 25 countries and 30 states. Not only will you be interacting with people from Beckley and the surrounding counties, you’ll be interacting with people from around the country and all over the world.”
The visitors explored WVU Tech’s plan for the campus, including academic programming, student support programs, dining and housing, on-campus healthcare services and campus safety.
“We’re going to parallel the high quality services we provide in Montgomery right here in Beckley,” said Carpinelli.
Long addressed the group as well, welcoming students to the University’s new campus and to the WVU Tech family.
“WVU Tech is about people and about how those people are a part of a family. Now, you’re going to become part of us,” she said. “We’re here to make sure you’re as successful as possible. It doesn’t matter what you’re studying. Our goal is for you to go out into the world and make it a better place. We will work with you as tirelessly as possible to make sure you meet that goal.”
Students split from the group after the general information session. Current WVU Tech student leaders led groups on a campus tour and introduced them to academic advisors who helped each student plan out their first year and register for courses.
Incoming first-year student Jimmie Richmond traveled to campus from Meadow Bridge, West Virginia. The son of a psychologist, Richmond is following in his father’s career path and plans to begin his psychology studies on the Beckley campus in the fall.
“I want to specialize in working with kids. I really enjoy that and I think I can make a difference in that field. Eventually, I’d like to move into child psychiatry,” he said.
Richmond said he was drawn to WVU Tech in Beckley because of the location and small school atmosphere.
“I was looking at WVU in Morgantown, but this was so much more convenient for where I live. I’m excited about being able to drive from home and have an easier transition into college,” he said.
Becky Conley, of Daniels, West Virginia, will start the pre-pharmacy program in Beckley in the upcoming semester. She said she has worked at Walgreens for the last five years and became enamored with the pharmacy profession.
“The job of the pharmacist is so important because you’re helping people. There’s a lot responsibility, but when you see these patients interacting with the pharmacists, you see that they’re treating them like family. I want to be a part of that,” she said.
While students toured campus, friends and family stayed behind for their own information session. They learned about campus programming and how they can play an active role in their students’ career at the University.
Beckley resident Tom Almond attended the event with his son, Josiah Chitwood, who starts at WVU Tech in Beckley this August. Almond said he left the family information session with a solid understanding of what the University had planned for the fall.
“I think it’s a great thing for our economy, for our community and, obviously, for the students. The dean and the faculty here have been great. They gave so much great information up front that we didn’t have a lot of questions,” he said.
Christie Adams brought her daughter Kimberly to campus from Fayetteville, West Virginia. She said she’s pleased with her Kimberly’s choice to attend WVU Tech.
“Out of all the schools she was getting letters from, this is the one she had her heart set on. I’m glad. It keeps her home with me and everything sounds like it’s going to be great here. The dean gave us his personal cell phone number and that’s very comforting,” she said. “I’m very excited for her.”
Students and families also visited information booths from a variety of WVU Tech departments and learned about the University’s new Tech Adventures program.
View photos from the event on Flickr.
In the continuation of a longstanding relationship between Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia and WVU Tech, Toyota has provided funding for programs designed to keep both college and high school students working on STEM projects throughout the summer months.
The organization donated over $12,000 to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja buggy team for their 2016 competitive season. Each year, the team builds a Baja-style racing buggy from the ground up. Students handle every detail of the buggy from conceptualization and design to constructing the vehicle competing in maneuverability, acceleration, braking and endurance events. The team recently met in New York to compete in Baja SAE Rochester June 9-12.
Toyota has also pledged $30,000 for WVU Tech’s STEM Summer Academy for Girls. Launched in 2015, the popular program brings high school girls to campus for a five-day immersion in STEM fields. Participating students work on hands-on projects and experiments, hear from female STEM professionals, explore career options and present what they have learned to their parents. The 2016 Academy will be hosted in Montgomery July 24-29.
In addition to financial donations, Toyota employees work with K-12 students at various WVU Tech outreach events throughout the year and with the Baja team on machining various vehicle components.
Dr. Zeljko Torbica, dean of the Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and Sciences at WVU Tech, said Toyota’s support for SAE and the Academy is invaluable to the success of the programs.
“These programs show students what engineers and scientists do in real life. They provide quality experiences that make these students better engineers and scientists when they do decide to follow those paths. Toyota understands the importance of this type of outreach, and we’re very grateful for their financial support and the time and talent they share with our University on a regular basis,” he said.
By Bill Frye, Register-Herald
The West Virginia University Institute of Technology is often known and renowned for its engineering program.
Once the school begin opens its doors in Beckley this fall to incoming freshmen, a new legacy for the school begins.
Citing great success with Adventure West Virginia in Morgantown, school officials hope a similar program on the Tech campus in Beckley will have a similar outcome.
Tech Adventures, led by director Steve Storck, begins this fall in Beckley for all students of WVU Tech whether they are on the Beckley or Montgomery campus.
Adventure West Virginia and Tech Adventures work independently of each other, but are structured to share ideas and administrative procedures, Storck said.
The outdoor adventure program has several components planned for the opening of WVU Tech in Beckley: a student orientation program, academic courses and services to allow students to plan their own outdoor recreation activities.
Currently, the student orientation program is set up for its initial run with two six-day sessions scheduled for the weeks of July 31 and Aug. 8, Storck said. Each session has room for approximately 20 students.
Storck said the students in the orientation program will set up a base camp at Lake Stephens and then throughout the six days take part in rock climbing, ropes courses, whitewater rafting and more. Students will also take part in service projects on both the Beckley and Montgomery campuses.
Students can currently enroll in the outdoor orientation program.
Patterned after the Adventure West Virginia program in Morgantown, Tech Adventures will eventually use student leaders to run the week-long sessions, but being in its first year, staff and local outdoor outfitters will run the sessions.
“We’re building a college community,” Storck said. “The program allows students to get to know each other and helps students learn how to be successful among their peers.
“They can learn how to balance a social life and their academics, sitting around a campfire setting goals,” Storck continued.
Beckley, situated in an area that is nine miles away from a national park and one of the largest recreational facilities in the world, the Summit Bechtel Reserve, will be a perfect fit for the launch of Tech Adventures.
“Central and southern West Virginia are rich in trails and natural resources. We are in the wildest part of the mid-Atlantic region,” Storck said.
“There are not many institutions that have a national park in their back yard,” Storck said.
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Storck pointed out that there are similar “beneficial outdoor programs that exist all around the country.”
A lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Storck grew up in Loudon, Va., a few miles from the Appalachian Trail and only 15 miles away from Harpers Ferry, where he began working for outdoor outfitters leading rafting trips on the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.
No stranger to West Virginia’s hills and mountains, Storck said students are responding to the outdoor programs being offered on college campuses.
“Students tend to do better right off the bat,” Strock said, citing graduation rates that improve 4 to 5 percent when students participate in the outdoor programs.
University of New Hampshire Associate Professor Brent Bell, who has worked with West Virginia University, said the programs are becoming very popular nationally.
Students are citing their experiences in outdoor orientation programs as one of their most important college experiences.
The outdoor education expert, who has conducted studies on 28 college campuses, said West Virginia has been researching the effects of outdoor programs to maximize their success.
Bell said in one study he conducted at the Morgantown campus through 425 student essays, close to 90 percent of the participants said the outdoor orientation program was their best educational experience.
“It’s a very positive experience for students,” Bell said. “Students tend to be retained, build more social support and live healthier lifestyles.”
Bell said another benefit of the outdoor programs is that they are usually led by peer leaders. The peer leaders get additional benefits, Bell said, by “finding their voice and being influenced to become outgoing leaders.”
“I think the big part is that students develop a sense of belongness. Going to college is a big decision and they go in with some uncertainty,” Bell said. “In the programs they develop interpersonal trust with a small group of peers, which relieves the uncertainty and allows them to be themselves.
“Nature exposes them to who they really are,” Bell said. “Then they can be more themselves on campus. It breaks down social barriers being together in the wilderness.”
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For Storck, adventures in the outdoors are in his blood.
While obtaining a degree in biology from Frostburg State University in Maryland, a recreation master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., then working on a Ph.D. in recreation resource management at West Virginia University that focused on assessing trail erosion and management practices, Storck led many students and friends on outdoor treks into the mountains, rivers and caves of West Virginia, southwestern Pennsylvania and parts of Virginia.
After studying in Colorado and taking a break from his studies at West Virginia University to teach at Garrett College in McHenry, Md., in their Adventure Sports Institute, Storck says he still meets many of his former students from that time who are now leaders in the adventure industry in West Virginia and across the country. Some of them helped lure him back to the Mountain State.
No stranger to his “beloved” (Appalachian) mountains, Storck is “back in West Virginia to hopefully introduce another generation to the wonders of the mountains and rivers that have played such a big part in my life over the last 40 years.”
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One of the unique aspects of the Tech Adventures program will be the fact that the recreation and academic sides will be under the same umbrella.
“Tech Adventures has taken a unique approach of combining resources and an administrative structure to provide integrated learning opportunities for those interested in pursuing adventure recreation management as a career and for those studying other fields at Tech who want a fun class or to learn a new skill as part of our co-curricular offerings,” Storck said.
He pointed out that many institutions have separate administrative structures for their student life and academic outdoor recreation programs.
“While they often collaborate, they rarely share resources, creating redundant inventories of equipment and different program models,” Storck said.
To start out in the fall of 2016, Tech will offer two elective courses: Essential Skills of Adventure Recreation and Adventure in Society.
According to its website, the first class will focus on “foundational outdoor skills needed to safely participate in and lead trips in outdoor settings. Students learn and practice equipment selection and use, outdoor cooking, map & compass navigation and wilderness first aid in classroom and outdoor settings.”
The second class will “explore how outdoor adventure has transformed from a daily necessity for survival in early cultures to its modern form of recreational pursuit. Through readings, media, lectures and hands-on adventure experiences students explore historical and modern perspectives of popular adventure pursuits and their societal influence.”
“We hope to have 18 credits of course work approved by next fall so students pursuing a degree in interdisciplinary studies can have a focus area in adventure recreation management,” Storck stated.
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Storck said southern West Virginia is primed with opportunities for students to get integrated learning experiences with local outdoor outfitters to learn how the outdoor adventure business works.
“We want to get you in the field,” Storck said. “Working with outfitters, giving you management skills to set up a business at colleges and universities or other recreational endeavors.”
Storck said he has cast a wide net in terms of who and where in the state students could pursue outdoor adventure opportunities.
“We are open to working with all outfitters and outdoor programs. This also will enable our students to have access to future internship and employment opportunities. I have reached out to as many companies as I can to provide broad exposure to the different styles and formats of the central West Virginia adventure industry,” Storck said.
Support is coming from all directions in terms of Tech’s adventure program, Storck said.
“Everyone I’ve spoken with has been very supportive of our program and open to working together,” Storck stated. “This is a very collaborative program and we will work closely with community partners including regional outfitters, programs, the National Park Service, state parks, the state Whitewater Commission, state office of tourism, the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, Active Southern WV and others.”
One big partnership the university has its eye on lies with the Boy Scouts of America and the Summit.
The Summit could be a key component of the Tech Adventures program for student use and recruitment.
“We would love to give our students access to world-class facilities and trails,” Storck said. “We are working together to form a common vision between groups.”
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Matt Monroe, director of programs with the BSA at the Summit Bechtel Scouting Reserve, confirmed that the group is looking to work with West Virginia University Tech to benefit both agencies.
Monroe said he hopes opportunities will arise where the BSA can hire students from Tech who have become proficient in outdoor activities to offer internships and seasonal employment for outdoor programming at the reserve.
“A lot of things are still being discussed at this time that are premature to detail,” Monroe said. “But our relationship with WVU Tech is very important to us.”
Monroe did state that once an agreement is formalized between both groups, he hopes that Tech students will be able to use the Summit’s resources and the Boy Scouts of America would be able to use Tech’s facilities for programs like their STEM Scouts.
In the meantime, Tech Adventures is still solidifying its program for the future.
The program will have two full-time staff, Storck and an assistant director.
Storck said they will begin training student leaders in the spring and use 6-8 student workers next summer.
Once they have a fully running academic 18-credit program, he hopes to have 50-60 students enrolled. The largest program he was a part of, Garrett College, had enrolled around 90 students.
Yet Storck is ready to see incoming Tech students take part in the outdoor orientation program, which is not too far away.
“We want you to challenge yourself academically, physically and mentally,” Storck said. “You know, study hard and play hard.”
Read more about Tech Adventures.
On Thursday, May 19, educators and members of industry gathered in WVU Tech’s Carter Hall on the Beckley campus for EdTalks Beckley. The topic of discussion: innovation in public education and strengthening the state’s workforce.
Hosted by the Education Alliance, the EdTalks series connects education to industry throughout the state in presentations and networking events. Thursday’s event in Beckley brought together more than 60 attendees and featured speakers with corporate, community and higher education perspectives.
Tim O’Neal, ‘97, Production Director at The Dow Chemical Company in Charleston and a graduate of WVU Tech’s chemical engineering program, was the first to speak. He said that industry can play a vital role in connecting education to the state’s economic future by simply showing students what they’re capable of.
O’Neal shared that he’d always been good at mathematics and science, but had no idea how he could apply those aptitudes to a career. With the help of a math teacher and a visiting engineer who explained what the profession holds in store, he found his calling.
“For me it was awareness. I’m firmly convinced that I would not have attended engineering school had it not been for a couple of those folks coming into the classroom,” he said. “We’ve got to invest early in our children. Industry has to be proactive. That’s really partnering with and supporting our youth in their career and educational choices and giving our teachers the tools as well.”
He urged attendees to take on that proactive mindset by volunteering as mentors, sending professionals into the classroom and supporting outreach programs and summer camps that allow young students to explore career options.
Phillip Ferrier, director of the James C. Justice National Scout Camp at The Summit Bechtel Reserve, shared a perspective on strengthening education based on key scouting values: adventure, leadership, sustainability and service.
He likened the successful educational environment to a campfire, where counselors sing silly songs, poke fun at themselves and create an atmosphere where scouts feel at ease.
“The values that we teach in scouting encourage kids to try new things and to step outside their comfort zone,” he said. “It’s important in our education system that we build a place where students can be comfortable. Where they can try different new things and make mistakes.”
Rochelle Goodwin, Senior Associate Vice President for Academic and Public Strategy at West Virginia University, wrapped up the event.
She said that today’s students are looking at careers with many more moves from job to job than in previous generations. For millennials, she said, the average job lasts less than three years.
“Our children will need to be prepared for a lifetime of career changes that may reach into the dozens. How do they navigate that? They’re going to compete globally. Borders will matter less. Technologies that we haven’t yet imagined will be part of their everyday future workplaces,” she said.
She suggested that instilling a stronger sense of self-determination in students and developing professional “soft skills” would better equip them to navigate this new ever-changing career landscape.
“More often than not, our best employees, teammates and leaders are those who have good soft skills. Communication, attituŽde, teamwork, social interactions, finding solutions and professionalism,” she said. “I think what’s really critical for the state is a sense of agency, embracing a sense of agency that empowering idea that you are in control of your actions and can shape the future.”
In addition to the featured speakers, groups broke off during the event to discuss and share their own ideas for strengthening the connection between education and industry.
Thursday’s EdTalk was sponsored by Appalachian Power, City National Bank, Bowles Rice, Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia and West Virginia University. The Education Alliance’s next EdTalk will be hosted by Fairmont State University on Thursday, June 16.
WVU Tech’s Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and Sciences has earned a reputation for quality academics and for producing work-ready engineers. For Dr. Zeljko Torbica, that reputation was a major draw.
Dean Torbica (or Dean Z as he’s known by the campus community) came to the university after a storied career in construction engineering and academia. He started out as a structural engineer. He worked for a multi-national firm that was active in more than 70 countries. He spearheaded a popular online construction management program at Drexel University and published research in a number of professional journals.
In 2012, he decided to make the move to WVU Tech.
“It was a combination of things that brought me to Tech,” he said. “It was a new challenge in my professional career and an opportunity to have some influence on an engineering program that has been so respected for so many years.”
In his time in Montgomery, Torbica said he’s been pleased with the progress of the college. The University went through the rigorous ABET accreditation process, adding Computer Science as the ninth such accredited program. The college has expanded its public STEM outreach programming and has encouraged more students to share their work and build new student organizations.
The college has significantly improved in national rankings in the last few years as well, including U.S. News & World Report’s annual Top 100 Undergraduate Engineering Programs list. Torbica said it’s because his faculty and students have been working hard to spread the word by sharing their research and presenting at conferences and competitions.
“That improvement is mainly because we have been working aggressively to improve the visibility of WVU Tech’s engineering programs on a national and on a global scale. We’re sending faculty and students to be in as many places as possible,” he said.
The college has also chipped in on a number of national STEM initiatives.
Last year, it joined more than 120 schools nationwide in a commitment to produce engineers specially trained to address the large-scale “Grand Challenges” of the next few decades – challenges such as “engineering better medicines, making solar energy cost-competitive with coal, securing cyberspace, and advancing personalized learning tools to deliver better education to more individuals.” A letter outlining that commitment was presented to President Barack Obama in April of 2015.
The University also aligned itself with the American Society for Engineering Education’s (ASEE) Engineering Deans Council Diversity Initiative. Presented to the White House last August, that initiative seeks to increase opportunities for women and other under-represented demographics in the engineering disciplines among both students and faculty.
Public outreach is another critical aspect of the college’s mission. Faculty and students regularly work with K-12 educators throughout the region to introduce young minds to STEM fields. It’s a great way to further increase visibility, and Torbica sees a bright future for WVU Tech’s STEM outreach programming and summer programs like Camp STEM and the STEM Summer Academy for Girls.
“We believe that’s one area where we’re ahead of many of our peer institutions. We’ve really done a good job at trying to connect what we do with younger students and their parents. We want to expand those offerings and take them to the next level,” he said.
As the college heads into the next academic year and the University begins its transition to a new campus in Beckley, Torbica said that his team is focused and enthusiastic. Their goal is to maintain the college’s level of academic excellence while enhancing opportunities for students in the college’s programs.
“There is a legacy here that a lot of great professors have built over time, and the new group of people that we have hired is just spectacular,” said Torbica.
“Hands-on education is the trademark of Tech. There is a significant connection to real-life problems that we try to incorporate in our teaching philosophy. We don’t want to change the program. We just want to improve it even further.”
That hands-on focus means lots of research in the field and hefty lab requirements for students.
“We’re maintaining our academic rigor and our practical philosophy, and as we move forward, we’re also going to be focusing on our lab space and facilities. Competitive institutions maintain excellent facilities and we’re going to continue to do that to remain a competitive program,” he said.
Ultimately, Torbica wants to see the college double in size. He said that attractive programs, increased research opportunities and partnerships with local business and industry on internships and co-ops will help do the trick.
“I would like to see us significantly increase in that way, to offer more opportunities. I would like to see our college get to that critical mass. Our new location is going to offer an opportunity to really grow our program,” he said.
Torbica was recently named a fellow of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). The organization selected Torbica for his work on consumer satisfaction in the construction industry, which offered valuable insights for the business side of the construction engineering field.
“ASQ is a very influential global organization. Businesses and industry throughout the world look to them for guidance because ASQ is on the cutting edge of quality and improvement. This is a major recognition in my professional career and I’ll hold the title proudly,” he said.
He’s currently in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for the 2016 World Conference on Quality and Improvement, May 16-18, where he joined other ASQ fellows to be honored at a special event.
For Torbica, events like the ASQ World Conference offer a chance to spread the word about WVU Tech’s programs and exchange ideas with professionals in industry and academia.
He’ll take that line of thinking to Germany a month later. Torbica was selected to attend the German Academic Exchange Service’s (DAAD) Germany Today program in mid-June. That program will take college and university administrators from American institutions to Stuttgart, Darmstadt, Heidelberg and Bonn. The group will meet with officials from top German universities to discuss how these institutions partner with industry to enhance the student experience.
“They are the best at this, so I want to explore how they’re doing that and see if we can apply some of those practices here. I also want to uncover potential opportunities for collaboration between Tech and some of these international institutions,” he said.
“The way I see it, if you look at the common theme in all of this activity that we’re doing as a college, it’s about constant performance improvement a search for greater performance excellence. We find that by looking for new ideas and actually being in the epicenter of discussions. What is the next thing? What is the best practice? That’s what we’re interested in,” he said.
“You can always improve. You can always be better. That mindset is how we do things.”
More than 170 graduates from the WVU Tech class of 2016 were recognized by the University on Saturday, May 7, at the institution’s 117th Commencement Ceremony.
Campus President Carolyn Long offered a parting message of encouragement to the graduates in the crowded gymnasium.
“I’m inspired daily by the strength and spirit of the students in this room. It’s a constant source of pride to hear about Golden Bears traveling the country to accept awards and scholarships, share their ideas and chase their academic, athletic and personal pursuits,” she said.
“I’m inspired, too, by your dedication to the interests and causes that matter to you. You find something you’re passionate about or something you want to stand up for and you go for it. You don’t hold back, and that’s a powerful trait for the trained problem-solvers we’re sending into the world today.”
WVU Tech alumnus Mickey Reeves, ‘78, addressed the graduates as the ceremony’s featured speaker. Reeves is Vice President and Managing Director of Jacobs Consultancy, Inc., where he oversees a 140-employee practice covering the worldwide petroleum, chemicals and energy consulting for the firm.
He shared how a series of phone calls lead him to follow job opportunities across the country, shaping his career and leading him to the work he loves.
“If someone told me in 1978 that I would have done these things, I wouldn’t have believed them. While you may know where you will be next week or next month, you don’t have a clue where you will be five, ten, twenty years from now. And you know something? That’s okay. Any and everything is possible. It’s up to you,” he said. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Take those calls. Go somewhere you’ve never been.”
Graduates Tavon Johnson from the Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and Sciences and Jacqueline Carroll from the College of Business, Humanities and Social Sciences were awarded the University’s Presidential Leadership Awards. The graduates were selected for their significant roles in the improvement and development of the intellectual, social, cultural and athletic fabric of the WVU Tech community.
Visit WVU Tech on YouTube to watch the ceremony.
Check out photos from Commencement weekend on Flickr or view the slideshow below:
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:
Dr. Houbing Song (Electrical and Computer Engineering) collaborated on and published four peer-reviewed journal papers in IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology, IEEE Communications Magazine, Wireless Networks and International Journal of Distributed Sensor Networks.
Dr. Deborah Chun’s (Mathematics) article, “Bicircular matroids representable over GF4 and GF5,” was accepted to Discrete Mathematics in late March. On April 9, Dr. Chun delivered her talk, “Capturing triangles in unavoidable minors,” at the Midwest Graph Theory conference hosted by Wright State University in Dayton. Ohio.
Andrew Wheeler, M.F.S. (Forensics) will present “A Case Study of a Tandem Bullet from a Small Caliber Revolver” at the Technical Session of the 47th Annual Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners Training Seminar in New Orleans, Louisiana on May 31.
Dr. Kenan Hatipoglu (Electrical and Computer Engineering) was awarded a $10,000 grant from the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium for “Summer STEM Workshop for Middle School Teachers.”
Dr. Farshid Zabihian (Mechanical Engineering) received an award from NASA West Virginia Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NASA WV EPSCoR) for his research entitled “Feasibility Study of Application of Abandoned Coal Mines for Residential Heating and Cooling in West Virginia.”
Dr. Gregory A. Lieving (Psychology) collaborated with colleagues at the University of Florida, Johns Hopkins University and Michigan State University to publish “Contingency enhances sensitivity to loss in a gambling task with diminishing returns” in The Psychological Record.