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Thursday July 23, 2015

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, 47 guests from Higher Achievement Richmond visited the area for a tour of the Southern Virginia region. The group consisted of eighth grade students called “scholars” that are exploring unique higher education options throughout the Commonwealth.

Higher Achievement is an organization whose mission is to close the opportunity gap during the pivotal middle school years. By leveraging the power of communities, Higher Achievement's proven model provides a rigorous year-round learning environment, caring role models, and a culture of high expectations resulting in college-bound scholars with the character, confidence and skills to succeed.

The tour was organized through the Martinsville-Henry County EDC’s Tourism Division as part of their Group Tour Program. Staff with the Tourism Division have been planning the event for more than a year with Higher Achievement officials and community partners.

The scholars began their experience in Danville at Averett University. They enjoyed a college dining experience in the Student Center and tours of Averett’s School of Nursing which included interactions with virtual patients. The experience gave them a glimpse into the field of nursing and the new technologies used to train medical professionals.

From Danville, the group travelled to Martinsville and toured the New College Institute (NCI) and the FAB Lab. In NCI, the scholars discussed the changing shape of manufacturing and were asked to share their perceptions of what a factory was like. They were then shown the Advanced Film Manufacturing Bay and learned how industry has evolved through use of technology. According to Autumn Morris, NCI’s Director of Marketing and Communications, “NCI’s Advanced Manufacturing High Bay represents technological advancements in both manufacturing and education. Modern manufacturing integrates high level skills in technology and math. With training available at NCI and Patrick Henry Community College, we hope to prepare the next generation for quality jobs in the field of advanced manufacturing.”  

In the FAB Lab, part of Patrick Henry Community College’s Dalton IDEA Center, the scholars learned about hi-tech devices that are revolutionizing manufacturing including 3D printers, plasma cutters, CNC routers and much more. The lab is the first of its kind in Virginia, and the tools there give businesses and inventors the opportunity to create prototype products easily and affordably.

Next, the group visited Martinsville Speedway where they toured the facility, enjoyed a couple laps around the historic track on their motor coach, and met representatives from NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. NASCAR’s Director of Racing Operations, Brandon Thompson, pit crew member Ricky Rozier and driver Natalie Decker participated in a panel discussion and even fielded questions from the scholars on the importance of working hard, good communication and doing their homework. Natalie Decker said she enjoys connecting with youth and that she enjoys “hearing their stories and telling them mine.” She added “it is a great experience not just for them, but for me as well.” Following the presentation, the group was able to mingle with the racing team members, pose for photos and collect autographs while enjoying a catered meal from Checkered Pig BBQ.

The group rounded out the exciting day with a trip to the Martinsville-Henry County YMCA for some leisure time. There they enjoyed spending time in the swimming pool and gym. It was a nice way for the students to unwind after a long day of touring. 

After an overnight stay at the Comfort Inn, Thursday morning began with continued exploration of motorsports in Martinsville-Henry County. The scholars learned about motorsports education at Patrick Henry Community College’s Racing College and engine production at Arrington Performance. The group was able to see performance vehicles of all kinds in both facilities and learned the importance of science, math and engineering in this industry. Chelsea Tinsley, with Higher Achievement, stated that “this has been an invaluable experience showing three different pathways to careers.”

Higher Achievement Richmond’s tour concluded with a visit to the area’s world-class sports facility: the Smith River Sports Complex. Scholars saw fields where the NJCAA’s Men’s Soccer National Championships will take place this fall and enjoyed a pizza lunch and time on the field before returning to Richmond. 

Tyren Frazier, Executive Director for Higher Achievement Richmond, said, “I’m appreciative for this opportunity for our scholars…giving them opportunities to shine (and) experience things they haven’t experienced before.” Frazier commented that the tour agenda “kept our scholars busy (and) engaged throughout the entire time.” He added that “it was truly amazing for our eighth graders to experience.”

According to Heather Hoffman, Visitor Services Coordinator with EDC’s Tourism Division, “Developing group tour itineraries takes a great deal of planning and we are so appreciative of all of the community partners that helped make this tour a success.” She added that “bringing overnight groups like this to the community showcases our area offerings while having a positive economic impact on the local hospitality and tourism industry.”

For more information about group tour opportunities in the Martinsville-Henry County area, please contact Hoffman at 276.403.5948 or HHoffman@YesMartinsville.com.

Tags: , Comfort Inn, Fab Lab, Henry County, Martinsville, Martinsville Speedway, Motorsports, , Patrick Henry Community College, Racing College, Smith River Sports Complex, ,