By Matt de Simone
The Botetourt Community Partnership (BCP) held its quarterly meeting last Thursday at the Fincastle Library. BCP founder Genevieve Goss, who the Valley Conservation Council recently announced as the 2019 Conservator of the Year, welcomed the community members in attendance.
Amy White, the dean of Virginia Western Community College’s (VWCC) School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), was the guest speaker. This new facility at VWCC opened on October 17.
White grew up in Buchanan and is a James River High School graduate. She completed her undergraduate studies at James Madison University (JMU) and then moved onto what was then the Medical College of Virginia, now known as Virginia Commonwealth University, where her graduate study focused on microbiology and immunology. White explained that, at the time, she felt that her degrees didn’t “seem related to agriculture at all but, in the end, it has all tied together so well.”
After two decades away from Botetourt County, White moved back to the area and taught at Hollins University and JMU before accepting a position at VWCC where she’s taught for the past 15 years. “I took the job very reluctantly,” White explained. “After two weeks, I was like, wow, this is where I’m supposed to be.”
VWCC’s educational and aesthetic changes can be attributed, in part, to White’s passion for bringing agricultural education to VWCC’s students. White talked in depth about VWCC’s new agriculture program and the new STEM building on campus.
“STEM education to me is collaboration,” White explained. “It’s breaking down these traditional academic silos that we have always worked within. Biologists have been over here and engineers are over there in separate buildings. That’s not the best way to educate.”
For example, these new collaborative efforts allow VWCC’s physicists to work with the electronics department to share equipment and introduce new collaborative ways to educate their students in both departments. STEM brings different areas of learning together and in turn, introduces students to new ideas and new resources to better their educational experience.
In Biology, Engineering, and Physics studies, the Characterization Lab houses electron microscopes that can produce 3D magnifications up to 100,000X. Their “Fab Lab” contains an environment that mimics real-word manufacturing labs. The Chemistry Center allows students to work with spectrophotometers. Math classrooms are designed so students can work in groups but also have their own space to work individually. The STEM building’s fourth floor offers students a chance to learn how to work with thermocyclers, a Nanodrop sampler, and a fluorescence microscope, which is used for studying organic and inorganic substances.
White has experienced methods of furthering agro education firsthand not only as a teacher and a student, but as a mother who raised her children on a family farm. She spoke about her early days at the Botetourt Farmers Market with her children and how she saw not only her kids’ interest in agriculture, but also the possibilities that presented themselves through the other youth in the area who expressed the same interests. This coincided with White’s and Goss’s first meeting over a decade ago at Ikenberry Orchards– the original location of the Botetourt Farmers Market.
“It was on the porch at Ikenberry Orchards, my kids were there selling eggs and jelly off of a bandsaw table,” White recalled. “My son Davis loved chickens. So, he and Lindsey (White’s oldest) sold eggs for a bit but Lindsey didn’t like the chickens. She liked cows and goats,” White said.
There was an impasse. Davis had higher aspirations. “Davis told me he was going to pay for college by selling eggs,” White continued. “So, he bought Lindsey out.”
The egg business was all Davis’s. After years of selling eggs at the market, the money saved helped pay for Davis’s first year of college. He is currently studying at North Carolina State University as a poultry science major.
White’s children are both James River graduates and followed their family’s agricultural path of education. Lindsey, who grew up loving and showing cows and goats, is currently in her first year of vet school at the University of Georgia. She also spent time abroad with the state livestock judging team in Ireland and Scotland studying livestock from other countries. White’s children represent the sixth generation of farmers in her family.
For more information on Virginia Western’s STEM program, visit www.virginiawestern.edu.