Students present engineering projects in D.C.

Seniors Zachary Chambers, left, and Karl Taubenberger discuss their Flex Trimmer for Project Lead The Way with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine at a Career and Technical Education forum in D.C. Photo courtesy of Jane Baker

Four engineering students from Warren County schools had the opportunity to present their projects to U.S. senators on Capitol Hill at a forum earlier this month.

Career and Technical Education Coordinator Jane Baker and Blue Ridge Technical Center teacher Tom Breed accompanied seniors Zachary Atkins, Zachary Chambers, Hunter Layman, and Karl Taubenberger to the Russell Senate Office Building on March 1. There, the students presented inventive solutions they’d engineered for everyday problems for a capstone course in Project Lead The Way.

The forum was a collaborative effort by Project Lead The Way, the Association for Career and Technical Education and the Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus. Sen. Tim Kaine is a co-chair of the caucus and helped to launch it in 2014.

Baker said that the Virginia coordinator for Project Lead the Way had taken notice of the Blue Ridge Tech students’ capabilities. Students had presented their projects to a panel of judges for review at an engineering showcase in December.

“What was different about this was that we had a chance to see all the other students from across the county…and look at their projects,” Breed said.

Taubenberger and Chambers presented the Flex-Trimmer – a combination weed whacker and lawnmower – at the forum. Taubenberger said the opportunity to present was an honor, but also a little bit nerve-wracking at first.

“Tim Kaine was a really nice guy,” he said. “It was pretty easy to discuss the topic with him, he was fairly knowledgeable about everything that was going on. It seemed like there was no barrier, not it like it was a senator and a high schooler.”

Breed said that even though the students had experience presenting their projects in the trade show format, chatting up the senators and educators took it to the next level. Many in attendance at the forum suggested seeking patents, and he said he’s currently working with students to take the first steps in the creative licensing process.

Taubenberger said he’s still thinking about pursuing a patent for the Flex-Trimmer, but transitioning into college is the first thing on his mind at the moment.

“I’m considering getting patent for it because there’s nothing else like it,” he said. “Hopefully in the near future I can get that started.”

Baker estimated that there were around 10 other schools represented at the forum, with both high school and middle school students presenting projects in the different Project Lead The Way focus areas.

“This was an opportunity that allowed us to see how our program compares to other programs in other states,” she said.

Next year, Breed said he aims for Warren students in both the engineering and biomedical program to experience the forum. Baker said that attending the forum gave her a chance to learn more from schools that use Project Lead The Way’s Computer Science program, which the Blue Ridge Technical Center will introduce next year.

“Mr. Breed and I walked out there extremely proud of our students and their capabilities – we felt very well represented,” she said. “I feel that our program is doing what its supposed to do – and that is turning out high caliber future engineers.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com