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Raleigh County Health Sciences and Technology Academy celebrates program graduates

Senator Capito and representatives from HSTA congratulate graduates.

On Tuesday, May 1, nearly 30 graduates of the Raleigh County Health Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA) celebrated alongside friends and family in WVU Tech’s Carter Hall Auditorium.

Established in 1994, HSTA aims to increase the numbers of underrepresented students who pursue STEM degrees in West Virginia. The program reaches students who are first-generation, low-income, rural and/or a minority in the STEM fields to encourage college exploration. The four-year program sees students learn about STEM and health care fields, participate in community service activities, complete research projects and attend summer camp programs. Upon graduation, students receive tuition assistance if they attend colleges or universities in the Mountain State. That assistance can help them all the way through a terminal degree.

Dr. Ann Chester, Assistant Vice President for Health Services at WVU and founder of HSTA, said the program has been incredibly beneficial to students in the state, where more than 90% of graduates go on to earn a degree and 84% stay in the state to build their careers.

What’s more, said Chester, is that the program is unique to the state and the region.

“It’s not anywhere else. It’s just here. Your community helped shape what this is today,” she said.

Based on the WVU Tech campus in the Innovation Building, the program has been operating in partnership with WVU Tech and the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority’s HIVE project. The partnership offers the program space and access to state-of-the-art teaching tools, including coding labs, maker space, 3D printing and a host of other STEM and health care-related activities.

Vickie Webb, Field Site Coordinator of the Raleigh County HSTA program, said the current class has been the largest and most successful she’s seen in years.

“HSTA makes a difference in the lives of students who would not have had an opportunity to attend college. When I see and talk with students who are working in the health science field and reducing the shortage of health professionals in West Virginia, it is encouraging. There are parents who have said that HSTA took such a burden off of them and it helped get their child through college. Students who have graduated say how blessed they were to be selected to participate in the program. That speaks volumes about the importance of HSTA,” she said.

The graduating class also heard from U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who has been a longtime supporter of HSTA. Capito shared that her own educational path didn’t follow the standard route. She studied zoology and wanted to become doctor, but her experiences led her in another direction.

“Life happens, and sometimes when you’re trying to find your place in the world, you have to tolerate the zigs and the zags,” she said.

She encouraged graduates to spend less time on their phones and more time in person-to-person conversations. She challenged graduates to approach their lives with gratitude for those who help them along the way and to embrace the community that has formed around their success.

“We need health, science and technology. The jobs of tomorrow, that’s where they are. That’s the wave of the future that you are going to be so well-prepared for. You have the confidence. You have the curiosity. You have the stick-to-itiveness, the motivation and the strength to move ahead. It’s in you, but it’s in you because of all of the people in this room who helped you get there,” she said.

Senator Joe Manchin was unable to attend the ceremony, but sent words of encouragement to the graduates.

“The Health Science and Technology Academy exists because your statewide community wants you to succeed and for you to have every possible opportunity to make our state and our entire country even better. Keep up the great work, and know that the Mountain State is counting on you to continue our legacy of excellence,” he said.

Find out more about HSTA at wv-hsta.org and view photos from the ceremony on Flickr. And be sure to watch Dr. Chester’s TEDx talk about HSTA on YouTube.