Cocalico students attend STEM summit

By on November 8, 2017
Cocalico High School graduates (from left to right) Abby Buckles, Michael Rissmiller, and Ben Smith come back to school as STEM experiment facilitators representing their employers

Cocalico High School graduates (from left to right) Abby Buckles, Michael Rissmiller, and Ben Smith come back to school as STEM experiment facilitators representing their employers

Junior Achievement hosted a STEM Summit at Cocalico High School on Nov. 1 to the ninth-grade class. Students were cycled through science experiment projects held in the gym.

Students seemed most interested in listening to Donna Harrison as she spoke on a panel about her career with the Pennsylvania State Police.

“I’m a trooper and currently assigned to the forensics unit, if you are familiar with CSI on TV” said Harrison.

While in high school, Harrison thought she wanted to be a veterinarian, then thought about going in to interior design and fashion.

“I always had law enforcement in my mind as something I wanted to do but it was not encouraged by my family and friends because at that time, it was thirty years ago, and there was not a lot of females in law enforcement,” said the petite Harrison. “The Pennsylvania State Police did not accept female applicants until 1971 so I kind of put that in the back of my head.”

Harrison worked for 12 years in display design but “didn’t see a stable future in it.”

“The day that changed my life was when September 11th happened with the terrorist attacks,” said Harrison. “I sat there on my front stoop and that’s what made me snap that day and knew that’s what I had to do.”

Seeing the first-responders go into the situation without hesitation inspired Harrison.

“I knew that’s what I had to do,” said Harrison. “I had always wanted to, and that was the week I put in applications.

Harrison talked about the difficulty of the training and testing.

“The training was very physical, mental, challenging, endurance,” said Harrison. “It tests every last bit of anything you have in your body, in your brain. My class started with 72 men and women and graduated with only 35. I’m proud to say that only one female quit.”

Karl Scheidt, Precision Medical Products in Denver, showed a jagged, up and down line diagram on the board of his career path to show how life doesn’t always turn out how you initially planned.

“I really enjoy what I do today, I love the company, we are local, there’s opportunities here,” said Scheidt.

Do words and communication still matter, even in STEM careers?

Michael Rissmiller is a 2011 Cocalico graduate, and described himself as “a regular student” in high school. He represented Armstrong World Industries and helped run an experiment.

“I didn’t see a need at the time to over-extend myself to take AP classes,” said Rissmiller. “I was pretty much a middle-of-the-road student. I wasn’t in the National Honor Society.”

Rissmiller, who graduated from Penn State and works as an engineer, said building relationships is important.

“I was involved in band and sports and that kept me connected to different groups of people, and that kind of carried into my career,” said Rissmiller. “I think the main thing is you have to focus on making connections and building your social network.”

Rissmiller said good communication is a “big perk” in the engineering field.

“As long as you build connections and communication skills, that will take you anywhere in life, no matter what field you’re in,” said Rissmiller. “You’re going to be cross-communicating between different functions. You have to learn how to communicate to different parties effectively to get your point across to each one. I think you can never say you’ve fully developed your communication skills because that’s something you continually develop over time, your presentation skills, your email skills.”

Rissmiller said teachers, Greg Buck and Mr. Stafford, were his biggest influences at Cocalico.

“When I went through school, we didn’t have anything like this,” said Rissmiller. “If you were interested, you took technology classes and you went down that avenue and wondered if it was right for you or not. This is a great opportunity for kids who may or may not have an interest in technology to get out there and say, ‘Hey, this may be fun to do electrical work or do physics.’”

For ninth-graders, the STEM Summit can help secure their interest in the field at an early age which will guide their class choices for the next few years. It might also secure others’ thoughts who may have less interest in a STEM career.

“Maybe they spent a year in classes trying to go for engineering or go to tech school and they found out it wasn’t for them, they could have saved that money and invested it in something else,” said Rissmiller.

“It’s like having a very well-organized field trip come to the school,” said Katie Crenshaw with Junior Achievement.

The STEM Summit is celebrating its sixth-year anniversary and is provided to area school districts free of charge. During the 2017-2018 academic year, STEM Summit will reach over 10,000 area students. Junior Achievement is dedicated to educating students in grades K-12 about work readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship through experiential hands-on programs.

Michele Walter Fry welcomes your comments at

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