GREEN BANK — Lasya Pidaparthi of Chapmanville and Jordan Wheatley of Madison were among 57 rising ninth grade scholars participating in the annual West Virginia Governor’s School for Mathematics and Science (WV GSMS) this summer. The two-week-long, all-expenses-paid, residential science honors program, held at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, located in Green Bank, utilized the field of radio astronomy to educate and encourage students to further explore careers in STEM fields.
Students exhibited leadership abilities, superior academic proficiency in science and math, and a willingness to explore various topics with peers from around the state, and were selected for their excellence in these areas.
The WV GSMS harnesses the unique facilities available at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to drive inquiry-based learning for small groups of 5-6 students, a teacher, and a student mentor. These teams work throughout their stay at Green Bank to produce a research project and present their findings to their peers and the observatory’s residential astronomers. Students employed the 40-foot radio telescope to make observations during their stay to investigate astronomical subjects as diverse as mapping distant galaxies to tracking hydrogen as it moves through our own sky.
Local astronomers mentored each team, providing their expertise in not only the research process, but also through a series of talks provided by observatory staff. This lecture series included such subjects as the interaction of galaxies, star formation, and astrochemistry. These talks also included information about the functional operation of the 40-foot telescope, giving students the proficiency to operate the instrumentation that would drive their research projects (the WV GSMS’s focus on inquiry-based learning emphasizes students taking a hands-on approach – the students provided not only the path of their research, but also directed the telescopes, took their own observations, and interpreted their own data).
West Virginia students were not only challenged academically, but also had opportunities to participate in an outdoor adventure program of mountain biking, hiking and caving. In addition, delegates chose daily from an array of afternoon seminars that included, among other things: introductions to foreign cultures (Middle East, Nepal, and Germany), ballroom dancing, improv comedy, bracelet making, “Thriller” dancing and more. It was through these collaborative interactions that students grew personally and established lasting friendships.
The West Virginia Governor’s School for Mathematics and Science is made possible through a partnership between the WV Department of Education and the Arts, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the National Youth Science Foundation (NYSF). NRAO and NYSF have long histories of offering comprehensive informal science education programs in unique environments to encourage, sustain, and honor youth interest and excellence in science. These premier science programs foster constructive relationships among students, staff, and contributing scientists and emphasize the social value of scientific understanding.