For Kentucky students, teachers, Oak Ridge summer program a ‘tremendous opportunity’

Press Release - 09/12/2018

For Kentucky students, teachers, Oak Ridge summer program a ‘tremendous opportunity’
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (September 12, 2018) – By the time Dakota Tiller graduates from Metcalfe County High School in Edmonton, Ky. next May, he’ll have completed every technology class his school has to offer.

That was part of the reason he asked his teacher about summer learning opportunities, and that’s how he found out about an intensive summer learning program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

For two weeks in early July, Dakota and other students from 13 Appalachian states gathered in the “Secret City,” a hilly east Tennessee town born out of the Manhattan Project. As participants of the High School Summer Math-Science-Technology Institute sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), students worked alongside some of the world’s top researchers.

“We actually got to go on an inside tour of Summit, the No. 1 supercomputer in the world,” said Dakota, whose group focused on high-performance computing. “I was able to build a supercomputer and build programs on that supercomputer. We were given exclusive tours. It was very fun.”

Most of the students involved in the annual program were from small communities and hadn’t spent much time in a laboratory setting before, said ARC/ORNL Summer Institute Project Leader Colt Narramore, who has been with the program for 12 years. Students were selected for the program based on a number of factors, including family income and interest in math and science.

Program leaders split students into groups, each with a mentor who could advise them in their research and expose them to career opportunities related to the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Whitley County High School 11th-grader Blake McCullah, who worked with Dakota in the supercomputing group, said he never thought he would have the opportunity to work with such cutting-edge technology. After high school, Blake plans to pursue a career in radiology.

“After talking to my mentor, he said that there’s definitely a lot of computing that goes along with radiology – reading the scans and working the scanning machine,” Blake said. “I hadn’t really thought about that before.”

Teachers from the Appalachian region also participated in a parallel track for educators.

“I think it’s important to get teachers into these programs. One student we can impact, and that student’s impacted forever,” Narramore said. “But you impact a teacher, and they’re going to go back to their hometown, and they’re going to impact (students) for 10, 20, 30 years.”

Karan Linkous, a math teacher at Metcalfe County High School, spent her time at Oak Ridge with teachers from designated ARC counties researching the folding and unfolding behavior of peptides. It was a science-heavy topic, she said, but it also involved the use of math skills. She plans to take a lot of what she learned back to her classroom.

She also plans to encourage other Kentucky teachers to apply for next year’s program, which comes at no cost to student or teacher participants.

“It will change them,” Linkous said. “It’s changed me. It’s going to make me a better teacher.”

Two Kentucky middle school students – Austin Grote from Lee County Middle School and Jeremiah Moore from Wurtland Middle School in Greenup County – were selected to participate in a one-week science academy for students between the ages of 12 and 14.

Students and teachers from the Commonwealth’s designated ARC counties submitted applications for the 2018 program to the Department for Local Government. DLG, an arm of the Office of the Governor that supports local officials and communities, led review and selection of applicants in Kentucky on behalf of the ARC.

“The impact this summer learning institute has on these students and teachers can’t be overstated,” DLG Commissioner Sandra K. Dunahoo said. “Talking with the students especially, you hear about the mentors they’ve found in world-renown researchers and friends they’ve made from different states. They’re also excited to share the ways ORNL/ARC has shaped their goals for the future.”

Many of the students who graduate from the ARC/ORNL Summer Institute come back a couple years later as college students who have scored internships, Narramore said, which ultimately gives them a significant advantage when they graduate and enter the workforce.

As for Dakota, he’s excited to pursue opportunities beyond high school. He’s got a couple colleges in mind, he said, and his time in Oak Ridge has made him more confident about his future goals.

“I’m definitely majoring in computer science,” he said. “This has just cemented it even more in my mind.”


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