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The youthful glow of learning

Ashby Ponds STEM pioneers continue to expand their knowledge

Created date

January 8th, 2016
shby Ponds residents participate in an eight-week joint learning class with Virginia Tech focusing on STEM-related topics.
shby Ponds residents participate in an eight-week

Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

For community members at , an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va., the quest for knowledge is an ongoing priority.

Last fall, the community partnered with the Virginia Tech Creative Learning Academy for Senior Scholars (VT CLASS) for an eight-week program focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research and innovation.  

“The class was a wonderful opportunity to hear from experts in different fields sharing their up-to-date knowledge,” says community member Polly Liss, who served for several years (and still serves as an ex officio member) on the Arlington County Public Schools Citizens Advisory Committee on Career, Technology, and Adult Education.    

The new partnership is part of a larger attempt to facilitate learning and communication on STEM-related topics among those who live at Ashby Ponds. Currently, almost 40 community members, many pioneers in STEM fields, meet monthly as members of the STEM group to discuss current events and share their vast knowledge. 

Meeting of the minds

Each fall, the STEM group hosts a panel discussion on STEM-related issues. 

The 2015 panel, held last November, focused on students interested in STEM topics and how well, in their opinion, the schools meet their needs. The four-member panel included one local high school senior and three recent college graduates working in STEM-related fields, including Sarah Elizabeth Ritter, a graduate of Christopher Newport University, and Polly’s granddaughter.

The 2014 panel focused on STEM education in Virginia schools. Among the participants was Jennifer Carter, associate director of the National Capital Region, Virginia Tech Continuing and Professional Education. Shortly after attending the event, she proposed the idea of the joint learning VT CLASS partnership.

“We chose to partner with Ashby Ponds for our initial launch in Northern Virginia because of their prominence in this community,” says Carter. 

More than two  dozen Ashby Ponds community members participated in the inaugural eight-week VT CLASS. The class focused on four areas of learning: environmental engineering, nuclear energy, the ethical use of drones, and government regulation of 3D printing. 

In order to bring that learning to life, participants enjoyed the opportunity to visit local sites, including the Occoquan Watershed, the Lake Anna Nuclear Plant, a drone aircraft site, and a 3D printing plant in Falls Church, Va. Following each trip, a Virginia Tech professor visited Ashby Ponds for a lecture on the topic.

Eager participants

The class, open to the entire Ashby Ponds community, appealed to many community members with distinguished STEM backgrounds.

“Before I moved to Ashby Ponds, I had hoped to take advantage of opportunities to audit college-level classes in Northern Virginia, but I was too busy trying to take care of my house and lawn and garden to find the time,” says Ann West, who holds a master of science in environmental sciences from Johns Hopkins University. For more than 30 years, she worked for a local environmental engineering firm. 

“I’m excited that Virginia Tech and Ashby Ponds want to keep me actively learning as well as re-living some of my experiences in the environmental field,” she says. “My favorite trip was the one to see 3D printing. It was very relevant to me because my son has been using 3D printing in his work. After the class, I Skyped with him and was able to discuss the software and designing process.”

Open to discussion

Following the completion of the VT CLASS, members of the STEM group prepared for their third annual STEM panel, welcoming current STEM students and recent graduates working in relevant fields to their discussion. 

Many of the VT CLASS participants attended the important discussion.

“STEM-related knowledge is important no matter what your age,” says Polly. “With the expanded knowledge provided to us, we are better informed and able to engage in broader thinking about these events.”