HARRISONBURG — Eighth-grade STEM Academy students at Thomas Harrison Middle School got a high-profile visit Friday from U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke.
Goodlatte, who co-chairs the Congressional Internet Caucus, said he was visiting the school to encourage involvement in science, technology, engineering and math programs. The United States has many stellar STEM graduate school programs, but they need more American students, he said.
“We’re always talking about ways we can encourage more young people to study science and technology and we have a shortage of people in those fields,” Goodlatte said. “We have some people who come from all over the world to study in our graduate schools in the STEM fields, and oftentimes the majority of the students studying science and math in our graduate schools are from outside the U.S., which is great, but I want to encourage people who are in the United States to take more of those seats.”
On Friday, Goodlatte and Harrisonburg City Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner observed eighth-graders in Greg Corder’s class build towers out of spaghetti, mini-marshmallows, straws and a few inches of tape and string. The students’ towers’ strength was tested on an earthquake simulator, and while some toppled, a few held solid.
Afterward, Goodlatte said the students likely would have beat him if he had tried designing his own tower for the simulator.
Last month, THMS received international recognition for its STEM Academy. It was one of 30 programs worldwide to receive a Program Excellence Award from the International Technology and Engineering Educator Association. Goodlatte said he’ll pass along what he learned during his visit at Thomas Harrison to Congress, as he pushes for STEM education.
While the students were building their spaghetti structures, Goodlatte encouraged them to continue pursuing STEM education and, eventually, careers in those fields.
“I hope this program is able to grow here in Harrisonburg, because it’s a great, great thing that we need,” he said. “We need it for you, and we need it for us older folks, because you guys are going to invent great things that we’re going to benefit from and we need it as a society.”
Iliya Zudilin, 13, said he will be continuing the STEM program at Harrisonburg High School next year. Iliya is interested in eventually pursuing a career in engineering, although he’s not sure yet what type of engineering he’d like to do.
“Our program is not only very fun, but … it educates you very much, and you’re able to learn skills that you can use forever and for any kind of job, even the jobs that don’t exist yet,” he said. “We do a lot of really cool things and I just love it.”
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