The Charleston Gazette: An opportunity to nurture science education

Snowballing advances constantly open good careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). West Virginia must insure that bright young students have a chance to reach their highest potential in this growing segment of the high-tech economy.

A splendid opportunity for intensive STEM focus now is available to the Mountain State, as follows:

For a half-century, the National Youth Science Camp has been a gem displaying the best of West Virginia. Each summer, two top students from each state come to the mountains for a month of high-level training under top science teachers and researchers. Repeatedly, the camp’s foundation has explored ways to expand the program to train more gifted West Virginia youths.

Suddenly, a prospect for better science education is available to the state. A decade ago, Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., backed the Canaan Valley Institute as a research center to curb pollution and erosion. With his support, the CVI got federal funds to build an $8 million complex near Davis, Tucker County.

In 2006, as construction of the center began, the National Youth Science Foundation signed an agreement giving the NYSF “first call for the use of the proposed CVI facilities, after the needs of CVI are met.” The document said the science camp could inherit the center if CVI ceased to exist. CVI also sold the NYSF 111 acres across Blackwater River from the center.

As West Virginia evolved into a conservative “red state,” Mollohan lost his congressional seat, and federal money for CVI faded. The Institute finally asked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to take over the building.

Without warning, NOAA said it will give the CVI research center to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a visitor center and headquarters for its Canaan Valley operations. Although NOAA previously approved the agreement saying the science camp would inherit the center, it ignored the past promise.

The Fish and Wildlife Service already has a visitor center and headquarters for the bowl-like Canaan Valley. It doesn’t need a hugely larger one. Instead, the facility could train thousands of West Virginia youths for STEM careers.

Former WVU-Tech professor Andy Blackwood, now the science foundation’s executive director, said:

“Education is economic development. Right now, we have about 100 students a year in our program in Canaan Valley. The new program would allow us to to have between 840 and 1,000 students a year.”

Go for it, we say. West Virginia leaders, both here and in Washington, should pressure NOAA to honor the 2006 agreement and let the National Youth Science Foundation train multitudes of bright young West Virginians for high-tech futures.

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