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Bridging the Valley with new program

Maude Puffenbarger of Mount Crawford, Joshua Lilly of Mount Solon, Alyshia Zimmerman of Staunton and Karla Martin and Christopher Reed, both of Stuarts Draft, are among 35 rising college freshmen who are spending July preparing for the rigorous study required for academic majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM fields – at their respective schools, James Madison University, Bridgewater College, Eastern Mennonite University and Blue Ridge Community College.

Puffenbarger will enter BRCC as a biology major, Lilly will enter BRCC as a physics major, Zimmerman will enter EMU as a biology major, Martin will enter EMU as a biology major and Reed will enter BRCC with a major to be determined.

The young men and women are participants in the Bridging the Valley workshop, a program funded by the National Science Foundation to better prepare students to persevere in the challenging STEM fields. Sponsored by the four participating schools, SRI Inc. and the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, the monthlong residential workshop, which continues through July 31, features morning math sessions at Blue Ridge and afternoon science enrichment sessions at Bridgewater (July 6-9), EMU (July 13-14 and 16-17) and JMU (July 20-23). Sixteen faculty from the four institutions are teaching the sessions.

“We’re hoping that the workshop is going to offer preparation on many different fronts,” said Dr. Bob Kolvoord, a professor of integrated science and technology and educational technologies and co-director of the Center for STEM Education and Outreach at JMU.

“One is that we are giving students a chance to get a little bit of a leg up in both their mathematics and their science preparation,” Kolvoord said. “They’re going to get a chance to see a broad range of math and science and that may inform their later career decisions. Many students will change majors, but often within a class of majors, and so we may be opening students’ eyes to some things they hadn’t thought about before. In addition, there’s a residential component, so in some sense they’re doing a test drive of living in the dorms, being independent for a few weeks and also learning about the community.”

The students spent their first Saturday in Harrisonburg by helping with clean-up efforts along Black’s Run and working in the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum at JMU on service projects. Along with their math and science study, the freshmen are touring local businesses and industries, including Merck and Coors, and taking a trip to Shenandoah National Park. “We really feel like we’re giving them a great taste of the Valley and these students are now making friends with colleagues at the other institutions. We’re hoping to build some bridges there, too,” Kolvoord said.

A highlight of the workshop is Sustainable Agriculture Day, Friday, July 24, when the students will visit Shenandoah Valley farms and farm-related businesses.

The freshmen will conclude their workshop experience with extended science sessions at their home campuses July 27-30. The institution-specific sessions will connect the students to resources at their respective schools so they can be “ready to go when the bell rings,” Kolvoord said.

augusta free press
augusta free press