Local high school students shine at Roanoke Valley Governor’s School Student Project Forum

Mark Levy, Director of the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, delivering an encouraging message to students and their families.
Photos by Shawn Nowlin

The judges at this year’s Roanoke Valley Governor’s School Student Project Forum used terms like “ambitious work ethic” and “supportive atmosphere” to describe the event.

On Saturday, February 2, the cafeteria at Patrick Henry High School was filled with many of the region’s most academically gifted students. The Project Forum, often referred to as “a science fair on steroids,” is an annual event where students present research projects that they have spent weeks working on.

Students have the opportunity to participate individually or as a team, according to Mark Levy, Director of the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School.

“I am impressed each year with the quality of our students’ work, as well as their willingness to persevere through challenges,” Levy said. “This isn’t the old-fashioned science fair most folks imagine. Instead of baking soda volcanos, we have projects in molecular biology, nanoscale imaging and electrical engineering.”

Approximately 275 students attend the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School for half of the day and their normal high school for the other half. Seven school districts help pay for and participate in the program: the counties of Roanoke, Bedford, Botetourt, Franklin and Craig and the cities of Salem and Roanoke.

Among those who participated in Saturday’s Student Project Forum were Ashley Dillon, a Franklin County High senior. “The Effects of Nicotine on the Development of Dano rerio” was the name of her project.

“It took about two weeks to do the experiment and then another week to conclude and write everything up,” Dillon, 18, said. “A lot of mothers who smoke and are pregnant with children tend to have an abstract perspective of nicotine when it comes to protecting the fetus. I wanted to do this project to learn more about the topic.”

William Byrd High freshmen Haley Day and Hunter Sipe collaborated on a project titled “The Effect of L-Tyrosine on the Heart Rate of Daphnia magna.”

“L-Tyrosine is a chemical found in many stress relieving medicines, yet it causes the heart rate to increase. We both thought that was a little strange, so we decided to study that,” Day, 15, said. “Working on this project with Hunter was so much fun. I look forward to participating in more events like this in the future.”

Logan McCorkle, a Staunton River freshman, responded with one word when asked what inspired her project: curiosity.

“My partner Kaitlyn Tuck and I settled on the name ‘The Effect of Centella Asiatica on the Heart Rate of Daphnia magna,’” said Corkle, 14, who wants to become an anesthesiologist after graduating from the University of Virginia. “We found a website that pointed out that this medicine does not impact your heart rate. That was fascinating to us, so we wanted to find a way to prove or disprove that theory.”

Mark Levy said it’s important to underscore the behind the scenes efforts put forth by parents, teachers and the community to help students reach their full potential.

“Parents of RVGS students and the local community provide a great deal of support each year. Our annual fundraising campaign coincides with the lead up to Project Forum,” he said. “We deeply appreciate the generous support of our many supporters and donors.”

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