Since 2015, Virginia Tech's Office of the Vice President in the National Capital Region (OVPNCR) has participated in science and engineering fairs in Northern Virginia. In 2018, OVPNCR's involvement was expanded to include students from the District of Columbia so as to better engage with underrepresented students in the Washington, D.C. region.
Participation in these fairs provides a unique opportunity to increase the visibility of the university's regional presence with prospective students, parents, alumni, and industry/government. To date, OVPNCR has awarded 34 local high school students with prizes for outstanding projects
Last year, a new initiative was implemented to include summer internships for high schoolers selected among the VT NCR prize-winning students from the Northern Virginia Regional Science & Engineering Fair and the DC STEM Fair. Eight interns have now successfully completed the program and some students have gone on to continue to work with Virginia Tech beyond their initial internship period.
This year's winners were selected in several categories for a variety of projects:
Each of the five awardees was offered a funded internship with a Virginia Tech faculty and research mentor aligned with their mutual interests in the Washington, DC region. This year all of the students accepted the offer of the internship, with the exception of Caroline Cunningham.The parameters of each internship were based on that of the mentor and student's interest and skill set.
Colin Berry, a rising sophomore at Yorktown High School was mentored by Chang-Tien "CT" Lu, Professor of Computer Science and Associate Director of the Discovery Analytics Center. His summer project was entitled "The Diffusion of Information: The Impact of Tweet Sentiment and Topic."
Berry said that though the first week he felt a bit intimidated by some of the math since he hasn't taken a calculus class yet, graduate students and Dr. Lu helped to put him at ease and helped him learn.
"Before this internship I didn't really understand what data mining was because I had never really done it before. Now I understand how it works and how that information is used. I also had never done data analytics with my own program. Through this internship I scripted my own program and completed an analysis for the data that I downloaded. At the end when I was preparing a paper on my findings to present to Dr. Lu, I realized that I had really done what I came here to do," said Colin Berry.
Berry hopes to work with Dr. Lu to get his paper published. He also hopes that the experience he had will help in the future with the college admissions process.
Matthew Lustig recently graduated from T.C. Williams High School and is a rising freshman at Virginia Tech. He was matched to two mentors from the Center for Power Electronic Systems (CPES) this summer, Research Scientist and Technical Director Igor Cvetkovic, as well as Assistant Professor of Electric and Computer Engineering, Christina DiMarino.
Lustig's summer project, "The Use of the Seebeck Effect to Harness Solar-thermal Energy for Use in an Urban Environment," looks in to harnessing new sources of renewable energy. He began his internship at the Virginia Tech FutureHAUS helping the team to assemble the house and learning how renewable energy is implemented into the power grid. Afterwards, he moved to the CPES lab and conducted his own research to further develop his project.
"The best thing I learned this summer was how to undertake research and go through the various steps of project development. At first, I felt a bit awkward turning in an order sheet for equipment for use in the lab. However, once I was in the lab working with all the equipment, I felt at ease. Thanks to this internship I feel ready to conduct university level research and I know more about the research process."
Lustig who will be leaving shortly to start his freshman year at Virginia Tech said he is most looking forward to being on campus as he "loves the beautiful campus" and also plans to take advantage of the exciting opportunities the university affords its students.
Zeinab Mukhtar, a rising junior at Wakefield High School was mentored by Dr. Thidapat "Tam" Chantem, Assistant Professor of Computer and Electrical Engineering. Mukhtar explored different types of engineering for her summer project "Climate Change and Water Quality." She is motivated to help Global South countries in Africa come to terms with climate change.
"What I'm trying to focus on is mainly centered around education. There have been many projects in countries affected by water crisis in countries like Egypt and other African nations but problems persist because these projects don't reach all of those in need. If we focus on education while waiting for new technologies to be developed, we could teach people about affordable and sustainable ways to access clean drinking water. Because if we keep things at the status quo the water crisis will never end."
Mukhtar believes that a university like Virginia Tech is the right type of institution to spearhead programs in water education.
"It's important to have a variety of actors focusing on water quality and water access."
This summer's cohort of interns was rounded out by rising Cardozo Education Campus senior, Rediet Tadesse. He was paired with mentor Ryan Gerdes, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering to work on a National Science Foundation (NSF) project entitled "TWC: Medium: Securing Vehicular Platooning NSF Computer and Network Systems, Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace."
For Tadesse the best aspect of his internship was being able to learn something new while applying it to real world applications. He also felt that he developed his resourcefulness and problem-solving abilities.
"When I first started working on the project, I did not enjoy using certain types of programming language. However, my mentor provided me with online resources that helped me understand different types of programming language better and it's changed my outlook." Tadesse hopes to continue to keep working with his mentor as he says he has "a lot to learn" from Gerdes.
Virginia Tech faculty and staff participation as science fair judges and summer mentors is a practical example of dedication to UT Prosim. By devoting their time, talents, and resources to serve students in our community, the inclusivity requirements of community, diversity, and excellence are served.
Moreover, these internships are often the start of a long-lasting relationship between the students and Virginia Tech. All of the interns enjoyed their time working alongside Virginia Tech faculty and staff.
As Tadesse put it simply, "I have always known Virginia Tech is amazing."