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including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Mentorship benefits all involved

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 38 - August 10, 1995

It's a three-way partnership of Virginia Tech, General Electric, and Lincoln Terrace Elementary School, and all the students are reaping the benefits.

Virginia Tech, through VTOPS (Virginia Tech Outreach Projects for Schools), worked with personnel from General Electric in Salem to start a series of hands-on math and science experiments and talks to Lincoln Terrace Elementary students. The elementary students get enhanced educational opportunities that fit into their learning requirements, as well as mentoring from Virginia Tech students, and the Tech students get experience in teaching, along with an opportunity to learn about industry first-hand before graduation.

General Electric made the math/science presentations possible by providing initial funding. "We hope to have that continued and expanded," said Lucinda Roy, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Roy helped start the project as part of Service-Learning, a program in which students began as volunteer mentors at Lincoln Terrace and now are getting three hours' college credit for a semester of community service. "It's a way to serve the needs of the community and to give students the opportunity to be of service," Roy said.

In the mathematics/science program, which Larry Beard of General Electric described as "a three-generation mentorship," three teams of Virginia Tech students and faculty members and General Electric personnel are presenting a series on electricity for their first project. They planned, designed, and presented experiments about magnetism, circuitry, and other basic principles of electricity as well as safety in dealing with electricity.

The project was a way "to involve Virginia Tech students in an outreach project that heightens their awareness of issues in being responsible citizens, particularly in the scientific community," according to Monte Boisen, professor of mathematics who is a team leader in the project. "It's very important that the scientific community reach out to young people of elementary age," Boisen said.

Boisen's group provided the presentations for fourth and fifth grades. Although he helped with the initial presentations, he expects the college students will take over completely in the future. "We're helping the Lincoln Terrace teachers fulfill the standard requirements of their students, so we're contributing to their education in a formal way as well as providing excitement and enrichment," Boisen said.

More important than the mathematics and science, Beard said, is the mentoring aspect of the program, which is not only a partnership between Virginia Tech and the people at GE, but also between Lincoln Terrace and the people at GE. Virginia Tech students serve as role models for the elementary students, while GE personnel are role models for both Lincoln Terrace and Virginia Tech students, Beard said.

Before this project, Beard said, GE's Elfun Society, which does community-service projects, had conducted two-way partnerships with schools, "but this is the first three-way partnership," he said.

According to Darryl Davidson, a design engineer at General Electric whose duty was to bring GE personnel into the project, "We get to mentor Tech students about real-world situations, what to expect in working in the corporate world. For Lincoln Terrace students, we show them that college is an attainable goal....They can look at the GE people and see the benefits of going to school."

Michele James-Deramo, director of Service-Learning at Virginia Tech, said the three-way partnership "brings a diverse group of players to the table on an equal footing so we have a true partnershp taking place." People from the business community and the non-profit sector (the schools) work with higher education toward common goals, she said. The partnership allows people to bring their varying expertise to the project "so we learn from one another and see how the various sectors of society are interrelated in a positive way."

Virginia Tech students also get other benefits. Connie Goehle, a graduate student in curriculum and instruction at Virginia Tech and a graduate assistant at the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, has worked as a mentor and as one of the designers and presenters of the electrical programs to kindergarten and first-grade students. "For someone who is going to be a teacher, I can't think of any better way for me to learn what it's like," Goehle said.

The experience has taught her to think from a different perspective related to standards of learning, she said--ways to go about doing the experiments, ways in which learning is different for kindergarten and first-grade students, whether an approach will work.

And for Lincoln Terrace, the project has been very successful, according to first-grade teacher Tina Askins. "It fits in with the curriculum," Askins said. The students enjoyed the four stations of hands-on experiments and exhibitions, she said. "It was right at their level."

Davidson said these initial presentations will be critiqued as a pilot program and then continued. Interest in the program at GE is increasing, he said, and so is the number of volunteers. "It's starting to snowball, which is good," Davidson said.