Every other Thursday at 5:30pm the South Boston Public Library bursts with activity as Halifax County elementary and middle school students gather for the AmeriCorps After School Lego Club.
Launched this fall by SVHEC AmeriCorps Member Vashunda Richardson, in partnership with the Halifax County-South Boston Public Library, the Lego Club gives 3rd-6th grade students an opportunity to exercise their creativity while developing their engineering muscles. Using free builds and design challenges like constructing a pyramid or building the tallest tower, the Lego Club allows students to tackle basic engineering problems and hone their design thinking. Because there are no right or wrong answers, students are free to make mistakes and test ideas.
“I started the Lego Club to introduce children to STEM concepts and pre-engineering challenges. I hope the students’ interest in Legos will lead them to exploring even more STEM subjects and activities,” said Richardson.
Danville City might expand its bus service to Pittsylvania and Halifax counties in coming years.
Danville City Council is considering whether to apply for grant money from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation for the bus service expansion.
The expansion would come at no cost to the city and, if funding from various sources is approved and City Council gives the OK, service could begin in spring or summer 2019.
Betty Adams, executive director of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston, has led the effort to expand the bus service. The purpose is to increase transportation options for residents seeking training for precision machining and other trades at Danville Community College, SVHEC and Southside Virginia Community College.
“Lack of transportation is a critical barrier to education and employment in Southside Virginia,” Adams said Tuesday. “I understand how important education is for getting people out of poverty. The next important resource is transportation.”
Bus service wouldn’t be limited only to those who are pursuing education, however. It would be available to anyone wanting to travel among the three localities for other purposes such as shopping, recreation and other activities.
The SVHEC and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation conducted a transit feasibility study for an 11-county area in the state. The report, completed in May, identified U.S. 29 between Danville and Chatham, and U.S. 58 between Danville and South Boston, as the two corridors with the highest demand, and recommended service for them.
“By removing barriers to education and employment, this expansion not only helps strengthen our economy, it also enhances quality of life by providing citizens with increased access to health care, food and recreation,” Adams said.
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STEM education in Southern Virginia recently got a boost with the full-day Coders Experience event held at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) in South Boston, Va. More than 950 middle-school girls registered to participate in 10 free events across Virginia in October sponsored by Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Karen Jackson, and powered by Capital One. At each event, girls in grades 6, 7, and 8 were introduced to problem-solving, teamwork and basic principles of software development. After instruction, teams of students used MIT App Inventor to create their own mobile application.
Nearly 110 middle school girls attended the Coders Experience at SVHEC on October 21, making it the largest of the 10 events. More than 500 volunteers from Capital One participated across Virginia serving as instructors and mentors for participants at the Coders Experience.
“Coders Experience is an extension of our C1 Coders program which partners with schools and community leaders to foster an interest in software engineering in middle school girls and boys,” said Pallavi Bokkisam, Senior Manager in Software Engineering at Capital One and South Boston Site Lead for Coders Experience. “Capital One supports this work through our Future Edge initiative which is providing $150 million in community grants over five years to prepare more people to succeed in a digitally-driven economy.”
“We’re grateful to Capital One for bringing this high quality, hands-on Coders Experience to students in Southern Virginia. Information technology is a growing field in this region, and software engineering is a great option for students to consider,” said Amy Cole, SVHEC Director of Student and Partner Advancement. “Opportunities like this are invaluable because they expose students to possibilities that they may not have known existed. Most students already love computers, cellphones, and living on-line, and we hope the ones who participated in the Coders Experience will now think about how to develop software content as well as use it,” she continued.
At the end of the day, teams presented their apps to a panel of judges. The judges were Amy Cole, Robin Mardre-Garrett, (SVHEC HR and Operations Manager) and Linda Green, (Executive Director of the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance). The top three teams and their parents received a free trip to the Women in Technology Experience in Richmond on November 15th. Coders Experience participants received a gift bag with a tablet and other gifts.
“The feedback from the Coders Experience has been amazing. Several parents have commented that their daughters were so excited they went home and started designing their next app. Maybe the next million-dollar app will be developed by a young woman who got her start at the Coders Experience,” Cole said.