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Students and Graduates Working in STEM Fields Share Their Experiences with Ashby Ponds Seniors

November 17, 2015

The Ashby Ponds resident STEM group hosted their annual panel discussion on November 12th

(Ashburn, Virginia) – For the past three years, the resident-run STEM group at Ashby Ponds retirement community has hosted panel discussions relevant to the advancement of STEM education.  The discussions have included school administrators from northern Virginia jurisdictions, professionals in higher education, and this year, students and graduates working in STEM fields.  More than two dozen members make up the STEM resident group at Ashby Ponds; the majority of the group's members had careers in one or more of the STEM occupations. 

Each member of the four-person panel spoke about their personal experience studying and working in STEM fields.  Kira Emmons, a senior at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County, shared photos and information from her experience at the Virginia Governor's Residential Summer Academy in Mathematics, Science, and Technology.  There, she specialized in Computer Engineering and built an ALU (arithmetic logic unit).  Emmons said that 160 students across the state selected for the program spend one month at the campus of the host college; in her case, the program was hosted at Lynchburg College.  Emmons is the granddaughter of Ashby Ponds resident and Resident Council secretary, Pat Westine.

The next speaker, Emily Crisp, graduated from the Loudoun County Academy of Science in Sterling, Virginia and is a 2015 graduate of Auburn University.  At Auburn, she majored in marine biology and completed a thesis investigating the communication of clownfish.  In order to complete the thesis, Crisp studied extensively at Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama and James Cook University in Australia. "We know more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the ocean," said Crisp, who is also a certified diver.  She is currently working in multiple positions in the DC area, including as an educator, at local SCUBA store Nautilus Aquatics, and at the Smithsonian Institution as a contractor on the preservation of the Division of Fishes radiograph collection project.

Sarah Ritter, another panelist, recently graduated from Christopher Newport University in Newport News with a degree in Organismal Biology.  Since May of this year, she has been an Education Specialist for the company Under the Sea and an aquarium manager for the Glen Echo Park Aquarium, a Chesapeake Bay discovery center, which she helped to create. The mission of Under the Sea is "to promote awareness of the aquatic environment, through education, in order to encourage stewardship and conservation."  Ritter is the granddaughter of Ashby Ponds resident Polly Liss, who is a member of the Ashby Ponds STEM resident group and panel coordinator; Liss served for several years on the Arlington County Public Schools Citizens Advisory Committee on Career, Technology, and Adult Education.

Jarreau Williams, the final panelist, is a Program Services Specialist with Continuing and Professional Education at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, VA. Since June, Williams has worked with various programs across Virginia including the Department of Education and the Virginia Tech Creative Learning Academy for Senior Scholars (VT CLASS), including a VT CLASS program at Ashby Ponds.  He is a 2010 graduate of Virginia Tech with Bachelor's degrees in Psychology and Theatre Arts, where he also served on the Dean's Leadership Council in the College of Science.  As a working actor in the Washington, DC area, Williams is a great advocate of maintaining the arts in education as well as incorporating them into the STEM curriculum. 

The VT CLASS program was new at Ashby Ponds this fall; it encompassed an eight-week course focusing on STEM research and innovation.  The program, called VT CLASS-Tech Institute, began in September with a field trip to the Occoquan Watershed to explore environmental engineering technologies.  Ashby Ponds' VT CLASS-Tech Institute students also visited the Lake Anna Nuclear Plant and other sites to learn about 3D printing and unmanned aerial systems.  The program will conclude in November.

About Ashby Ponds: Ashby Ponds, one of 18 retirement communities managed by Erickson Living, is situated on a scenic 132-acre campus in Ashburn, Virginia (approximately 30 miles west of Washington, D.C.).  The community is home to over 1000 residents and more than 140 resident-run and resident-driven clubs and groups, an indoor pool, a fitness club, transportation services, 24-hour security, and flexible dining options. More information about Ashby Ponds can be found at