Friday, August 4, 2017

The Most Fulfilling Prospect of My Life: The Fight for Educational Equality

By Trinity Welsh '16


Trinity Welsh '16 & Seth Chamberlin
August 2, 2017: Hi there! Recently, I began my new career as a teacher. It isn’t quite where I thought I’d go, but here we are! I’m writing as I sit outside of a Starbucks in Arkansas, a state that I never thought I’d live in. I started the summer having only worked in retail, ready to try anything new. I was pretty surprised when Teach for America extended me an offer, and I was thrilled when a high school in Helena-West Helena, AR, offered me a job before I’d received any training. I had no idea what I was doing, but I wasn’t about to say ‘no’. So, I packed my whole life in my car and drove to Mississippi. 

I stayed pretty tired-my summer was kind of like teacher boot-camp. I was up at 4:30 every day to eat and get coffee, and make my lunch, so that I could catch the bus for the hour-long ride to school in Marks, MS. My days at Quitman County Middle School were something I can’t forget. I was pretty homesick the whole time, but I won’t ever be able to forget my 8th graders. They were worth it. We were only in school until 1 every day, but in those few hours we came to know each other pretty well. I can tell you now, that there is nothing like watching a student become less concerned with popularity and more excited to show their brilliance, or watching children grow into classroom leaders.

After school, we tripped it back to Delta State University to spend a few hours in class ourselves, learning to develop classroom culture and cultivate working relationships with students, as well as devise strategy for classroom learning. We were finished by 6 every day, when we would take some time to eat dinner, work out, and lesson plan for the next days.

At the time, it felt like the summer would never end. But, tomorrow is my first day of work as a certified teacher, and there is nowhere else I’d choose to be. Helena is a school district that suffers from a lack of industry and funding. It’s a beautiful ghost-town. But it’s home, now, and I’m eager to fight for her survival.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. I was a politics major, and it seems like I’ve been given the opportunity to affect change in areas where I am most needed. The fight for educational equality might be the most fulfilling prospect of my life. Our motto at TFA is “One day, all children.” I’ll meet my kids next week, but I started fighting for them in June.

Wish me luck tomorrow! It’s going to be a big day.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Study Abroad 2017 2: Joshua Sanders '18 in China

By Joshua Sanders '18


July 10, 2017: Greetings again from China! Today officially ends my period of working in the chemistry lab and tomorrow marks the first day of my UNAI CTGU Summer School classes.

(L-R) Dyes Methylene Blue, Crystal Violet,
Methyl Orange, and Sulforhodamine B. 
I found some really interesting data through my work in the lab. In this photograph, I show the four dyes I worked with this summer. The Methylene Blue (MB) and Crystal Violet (CV) are separated from the Methyl Orange (MO) and Sulforhodamine B (SRB) because the MB and CV are cationic dyes and the MO and SRB anionic dyes, meaning that the blue and violet dyes have a positive charge on the dye molecules, and the MO and SRB have a negative charge on the dye molecules.

The biochar I used in all of my research was suspected to be anionic as well (negatively charged.) This was supported by some of my data: the negatively charged dyes didn’t absorb at all on the surface of the biochar, following the old phrase “opposites attract”. Just like magnets, the negative charge of the dyes was repelled by the (suspected) negative charge of the biochar. Also like magnets, the positive charge of the cationic dyes was attracted to the negative charge of the dye.

Though I’m not sure exactly how my data will be used, I have given over all of my data to my research advisor here at China Three Gorges University, and will be told later on if any of my data will be used in any future research or publications.

Joshua Sanders in front of the only Christian church in Yichang.
Before he returned to Ferrum, Dr. Johnson took me to downtown Yichang and showed me around. We visited the only Christian church in Yichang and a popular public park near the Yangtze river, which was filled with people and families exercising and enjoying their weekend. We also went to Wuhan to meet two students, Dawn and Feng, who previously came to Ferrum College, and Pan Xiaojie, from the Wuhan Institute of Hydroecology, who visited Ferrum’s Smith Mountain Lake Water Quality Lab in the summer of 2016. During this trip, Dr. J and I visit the Yellow Crane Tower and had a meal at a crawfish restaurant. Crawfish have become incredibly popular in southern China over the past few years.

Tomorrow the summer school classes start, so I will have another update to send out as soon as I go on more adventures and meet other people who have come to study in China. I hope everyone is enjoying their summer, and I look forward to sending out some more pictures and info before I head home. I can’t wait to be back stateside, and I’m definitely ready to be back at Ferrum for my senior year for classes this year. Until then, I’ll be learning, meeting new people, and having adventures. Until next time!

See additional photographs here.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

My Fulbright Experience: José M. Gutiérrez, Fulbright Spanish Teaching Assistant

Hi! It’s been a month since I came back home and the summer heat is making me miss Ferrum. Almost a year ago I found out I was coming to this place of the United States and the only thing I thought was that I was coming to the middle of nowhere. Now that my stay is over I cannot help feeling nostalgic, and not only because of the weather.

Back in September, I missed my hometown so much, but as time went by, I learned to appreciate this college. And it would have not been possible without the very nice people I met and the various activities offered by the college; it was especially helpful to go to the YMCA to adjust better to my new life. In addition, this semester I got involved in more activities. I went skiing and hiking with Ferrum Outdoors, and I also tried zip lining and rock climbing. I never considered myself and outdoor person but I must admit these activities made me realize how much fun I was missing.

I also went to the theater, had fun in the game club and the spring fling, participated in bowl making, enjoyed the choir presentation and the dance recital, and attended some Inquiring Minds presentations. I even had the opportunity to give a presentation about the Mayan culture and language. This college may be small but it has so many activities to offer that sometimes you need to choose between them. I can honestly say that I am glad I was sent to Ferrum.

Now, I must return to my English classes. It was an enriching experience to switch and teach Spanish in Ferrum. I got to compare beginner Spanish students here with English beginner students in Mexico. It made me realize the struggles that English students have or don’t have in Mexico depending on the aspects of language like pronunciation and grammar. My stay as well as the courses I took will also help me to improve my classes. Now that I have a better understanding of American culture and history, I feel more confident to promote it in my English classes back home. After all, language and culture are inextricable linked.

I can only be grateful for this experience and for all the wonderful people I met who made this stay even more enjoyable.




Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Study Abroad 2017: Joshua Sanders '18 in China


Greetings from Yichang, in the Hubei Province of China!


Joshua Sanders '18 and Dr. David Johnson in China.
My name is Joshua Sanders and I am a rising senior at Ferrum College pursuing a B.S in chemistry. This summer I have been privileged to study at the China Three Gorges University (CTGU) in Dr. Huang Ying Ping’s lab thanks to the generous financial support of the Boone Honors Program. Additionally, I’ve had the honor to work in the same research group as Dr. David Johnson, professor emeritus of Ferrum College, who has been crucial in building bridges and making connections between students of Ferrum College and CTGU.

To be boring and scientific, I’m investigating the catalytic abilities of metal-doped biochar to degrade organic pollutants via Photo-Fenton chemistry. Regular human-speak, I’m looking at the ability of a cheap, easily produced, and environmentally-friendly way to clean up wastewater from pharmaceutical, textile, and industrial production facilities.

Biochar is basically organic material, such as peanut husks, sewer sludge, plants, and other organic stuff, which has been pyrolyzed (or burned and turned to carbon in a low oxygen environment.) Think of ground up charcoal powder, like the activated carbon you use in some aquarium filters, that’s been made from what would otherwise be trash or waste material.

In my case, the biochar was made from a plant that selectively absorbed copper from the soil, meaning it could help “clean” soil before being turned to biochar. An added benefit of a metal-doped biochar is that depending on the metal absorbed, the biochar product can be used in Fenton reactions. In addition to phytoremediation of metal-contaminated soils, the absorbed metal ion is used to generate other chemical species that can attack the pollutants and either absorb them from the water or turn them into less harmful molecules, water, and oxygen gas.

Biochar has become very popular recently due to its wide variety of applications including its ability to “scrub” pollutants from water, soil and air; produce biofuel; and reduce the amount of waste to be managed. Biochar is an attractive and interesting avenue to pursue in the field of climate control and environmental pollution control.

You can see more of my photographs here.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Robert Cunningham: A True Ferrum College Success Story

By Tom Steele, Ferrum College Director of Academic Outreach Initiatives


Robert Cunningham '17 is a true Ferrum College success story. He defied the academic odds makers by earning his degree in Sports Management, which he completed in only four years! Robert accomplished this milestone while managing more responsibilities than did most of his peers. 

When asked what the past four years at Ferrum College have taught him, Robert replied, “Work hard. There are no shortcuts; you gotta grind through it.” One might say that Robert has excelled in the grind.

Robert first learned about Ferrum College at a wrestling camp in his home town of York, SC, which was hosted by Ferrum Head Wrestling Coach Nate Yetzer. Robert explained, “Coach Yetzer and Jason Byrd (Director of Admissions), stayed in contact with me. They helped with everything and got me thinking that I could make college a reality.”

During his years at the College, Robert earned membership in the Ferrum Scholars program. He was selected captain of the wrestling team. He shared his wisdom and positive outlook by mentoring new freshmen in the Brother4Brother program. Robert also became a devoted husband and loving father. These have been busy, exciting years for the Cunningham family.

However, Robert wasn’t always confident that he would earn his college degree. Robert shared, “I am a first generation college student. I didn’t come to Ferrum for academics. I came to Ferrum to wrestle. But, I used my resources, I had success early, and I began to gain confidence. The discipline I learned from wrestling was a big help, and my coaches kept pushing me. I had to learn how to study and how to balance my time and responsibilities. I had a lot of support at Ferrum.”

Between his sophomore and junior years, Robert married his high school sweetheart, Ki’Aira. They have been blessed with a daughter, Kylie. Before they joined him in Ferrum, Robert was a frequent traveler to Rock Hill, SC to spend time with his family. The couple talked nightly on Facetime. Ki’Aira says the times she and Robert were apart while he was in school were the most difficult, especially with an infant in the home. Robert's family joined him at Ferrum for his senior year.

Robert has a plan for the Cunninghams' future. His goal is to become an athletic director. He will begin his career journey as a wrestling coach for nearby Patrick County High School. The journey will be a grind, with no shortcuts, and this is the way Robert expects it to be. His success as a student-athlete and as a family man have more than prepared him for the work that awaits. 

Note: Casey Fabris also profiled Robert in The Roanoke Times. You can read her article here.




Thursday, May 4, 2017

Diversity Served: Ferrum College Students’ Sociology Projects Transition from the Classroom to Community.

By Laurie Adams



Ferrum College will celebrate Commencement Saturday, May 6th, but just as the celebration marks an end and a beginning for graduating seniors, for some students, class projects begun here at Ferrum will also be moving into their own next phases.

Abria Witcher
Students in Dr. Susan Mead’s Sociology 391 Directed Study Course undertook a number of social justice projects in the fall of 2016 and many of those projects will be ongoing, either through the students’ own efforts, or by incorporation into larger non-profit efforts. Here’s a look back – and a look forward at where they started and where they’re going.

Abria Witcher’s project was in trouble. Not just in trouble – her goal of helping with Gretna Elementary School’s backpack program and raising money to assist an orphan in South Sudan was falling apart before her eyes – but that’s when things took a dramatic turn for the better. Witcher had been moved when she learned many students at the school were struggling to get their nutritional needs met. “Their only meal was lunch,” she said. A conflict of timing derailed her original plan, but Witcher pressed forward. Inspired by the 22-year-old Criminal Justice major’s efforts, all the teachers and administrative staff at the school where she interned contributed cash - stepping up to not only meet but surpass her goal by raising $250. This boost allowed Witcher to assist more than one orphan in South Sudan. “My [five] students will be able to attend primary school for a year,” said Witcher.

Witcher plans to continue coordinating with Gretna Elementary School after she graduates to help not only with their backpack program, but by helping students attend summer school. She attended Gretna Elementary and explained, “I was pretty much one of those kids in elementary school so it really spoke to me, wanting to help the students [at Gretna] as well as the orphans attend primary school in South Sudan.”

Witcher and eight classmates, under the guidance of Mead, took on independent projects to help them learn about and get hands-on experience in tackling real-world social issues. The students’ efforts focused primarily on a group of South Sudanese orphans, helping to pay their educational costs and feed them, particularly during times of the year when they aren’t able to get their meals at school. The children who have been helped by Witcher and her classmates range in age from kindergarten through high school graduates. So far the combined efforts of Mead’s students have raised over $1500.

The projects of the other students in Mead’s class varied along with each student’s specialty and the emotional chords that were struck by the plight of the people in South Sudan. Senior Caitlin Johnson, of Rocky Mount, is graduating with her Environmental Studies degree. She plans to continue working with a Ferrum alumnus who is now a middle school agriculture teacher to develop a lesson plan on farming and food deserts, both locally around Virginia and internationally, focusing on South Sudan. Having grown up on a farm, Johnson’s direction for her project was a logical extension of her interest in natural resources and agriculture.

Alexander Soltani
Alexander Soltani’s project was among the most ambitious in the class: he hoped to raise enough money to buy a Toyota Land Cruiser for Bishop Peter Youl of the Tonj Area Diocese of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan. Soltani explained that the vehicle is critically necessary to help the bishop reach far-flung parishioners in South Sudan’s rough terrain. Bishop Yuol coordinates efforts to help the orphans Soltani’s classmates raised funds to assist. A Land Cruiser was acquired for Bishop Yuol and a crowdfunding page generated by Soltani will assist in making future payments on the vehicle.

Soltani, who lives in Mississippi, said he probably would not have attempted this type of service work had he not taken the course. “Before I took this course, I had no intention to work on humanitarian efforts but Dr. Mead helped show me that you can focus on yourself, as well as others. I would like to take up a cause having to do with battered women/abused children in the future, since I hope to become a civil suit lawyer one day. One lesson I learned is sometimes the only way you can help yourself, is to help others, which falls in line with Ferrum's mission ‘Not Self, But Others,’” said Soltani.

Jonathan Dickey
Other projects focused on peace building and community development, including assisting South Sudanese widows. Senior Jonathan Dickey, of Leesburg, Va., says that raising funds to help South Sudanese widows was especially meaningful for him, having grown up with a single mom. He said, “At a young age I saw the struggles that came with that.” Dickey explained he’s focused on the educational component of outreach, noting, “The best outcome would be improved literacy and resources for the widowed mothers of South Sudan.” Like Soltani, Dickey said he came to the directed study course in a roundabout way, initially pursuing it in lieu of finding an internship, but found himself moved to press on with the course’s goals even after an internship was acquired.

Ryan Tesler, a 21-year-old Criminal Justice major from Atlanta, Ga., is raising funds to feed South Sudanese orphans. “I wish more people knew about the good people that reside in South Sudan. The conflicts, violence, and struggles seem to be all you see or hear about when South Sudan is brought up. Bishop Peter and his family is an example of one of the positive sides of South Sudan. He is the one who has brought in all these orphans to help feed and educate. Bishop Peter gave up a great paying job [for] a no salary lifestyle to help these orphans,” said Tesler, whose fundraising effort was among the most successful projects in the class.

After graduation, many of the student projects will be ongoing and the people who benefit will continue to receive assistance through Professor Mead’s non-profit, Diversity Serves. To learn more about Diversity Serves, visit its Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/Diversity-Serves-1853133511621208/ or to support ongoing student fundraising efforts visit www.gofundme.com and search for projects under “Diversity Serves.”