Pandemic doesn’t stop Governor’s School research projects

Every April for the past several years, the Jackson River Governor’s School has hosted an exhibition – known as the JRGS Science Fair – for students in Barbara Kolb’s research course, NAS-198-199, “Intro to Scientific Research,” to show off their projects. Typically, the JRGS Science Fair is held in the Moomaw Center on the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College campus in Clifton Forge each year.

This year’s pandemic, and the subsequent closing of the DSLCC campus in mid-March, altered but didn’t stop area high school juniors from completing and turning in their projects, anyway.

“We’re doing the projects,” Kolb says she told the students, despite the circumstances. The research papers were turned in through a variety of ways, says Kolb, but mostly via email attachments or taking photos of pages with cell phones.

Kolb noted that several students had been working on their projects since the beginning of the school year and had put a lot of work into them already. Others, who had planned to use the science lab, library, and other facilities at the college, had to switch gears and change their topics.

One of them was Alexandre Taylor, an Alleghany High School junior, whose original idea was to measure the effect of electrolytes in different sports beverages. He would have needed the DSLCC lab to conduct his experiments.

Instead, since he knows something about drone flying, Taylor’s research project looked into the practicality of delivering much-needed medications to people living in insolated or rural areas.

Kolb said Taylor’s academic paper was well done, and is not only an example of good research, but also how even high school students are thinking how they can help their community. Alexandre enlisted the services of Adam McBryde, who is a former student of Kolb’s from James River High School, and McBryde’s teenage step daughter, Leah Manier, to film a video explaining how the drone idea would work, since Alexandre’s drone is broken. The video showed how a drone could deliver an asthma inhaler to someone’s home.

“This is only one example of how these students are helping others during this time of quarantine,” says Kolb.

For Kolb and her students, the main thrust of the course is not so much the topic, the thesis, or what conclusions they think they’ll come to, but how the scientific research is conducted. The students weren’t able to display their projects in Moomaw Center and defend them to judges; however, for Kolb, that wasn’t the main point. The main point was the research process, and, for that, Kolb is extraordinarily proud of her students, especially since most communication with them wasn’t face to face in the classroom. That was a huge challenge, says Kolb.

“If they didn’t find what they expected to find, I wanted to know why and how,” says Kolb. “They stayed focused and they worked hard.”

“I am incredibly fortunate to work with these young ladies and gentlemen,” adds Eddie Graham, JRGS Director.  “They are certainly very capable academically and willing to challenge themselves. Perhaps more importantly, they are very mature for their age and display very positive personal characteristics. I am extremely proud of how they have reacted to the major disruption that this health crisis has caused.”

Topics ranged from comparing this pandemic with others from history to a GPS wildflower study at Douthat State Park.

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