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Caperton heads Harless inductions

May. 02, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Former Gov. Gaston Caperton said that, while the technology he championed as governor is as important as ever in classrooms today, he credits the people involved in his education with making the biggest difference in his life.

"I know for me, as a child, I was dyslexic, so getting an education was particularly challenging for me, but I was fortunate enough to have my parents, who pushed me, and my teachers, who were willing to help me," said Caperton. "I know I said it when I was governor that the greatest thing we can do is help teachers inspire kids and believe in them to do things other people think they can't do. I benefited from a public education in that way."

Caperton was one of four educators or education supporters honored Thursday during the 11th annual June Harless Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Marshall University Foundation Hall.

In addition to Caperton, Mike and Henriella Perry, founders of the Heritage Farm Museum and Village, and Illah Nourbakhsh, head of the robotics masters program at Carnegie Mellon University, were inducted into the hall of fame during a ceremony with guests including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, State Superintendent James Phares and Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne.

The guest list alone was impressive enough for Stan Maynard, director of the June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development, but he said the list of accomplishments for the inductees really was what set the tone for the whole event.

"We look at what people have accomplished in the past and the potential their projects hold for the future of education in the state, and there is a lot of both of those with tonight's inductees," said Maynard. "In our society, we call a lot of attention to certain professions -- namely things like business, entertainment and athletics -- which is a good thing. However, we want to take our educators and those who support them and shine a light on them and celebrate them in that same way and recognize the quality of work they are doing here."

After successfully implementing his CREATE lab, which focuses on technology and robotics in education, at Marshall, Nourbakhsh said he has become familiar with Huntington.

What he didn't realize until very recently, was that his father and older brother, who immigrated to the United States from Iran, had become familiar with the area long before he partnered up with Marshall. "When they came over there was a program for doctors, like my father, where they would place you in areas of the country where doctors were needed, and that's what he did," said Nourbakhsh. "I am an immigrant from Iran, and I came here years after them. I always heard my brother talk about Huntington, and it wasn't until last week that I thought to ask him, 'Which Huntington?'

"It was this one, in West Virginia, and I couldn't believe that I was able to be working in that place where he talked about learning English and American culture all of those years ago."

Mike and Henriella Perry certainly are no strangers to the area where in which they established Heritage Farm in the 1990s. They have helped usher thousands of schoolchildren and adults alike through their property in Huntington, which serves as a hands-on educational facility illustrating the lifestyle and heritage of West Virginia from the time of its earliest settlers through the modern era.

Mike Perry said four of his grandchildren participated in programs provided by the Harless Center, and he was honored to be able to give back.

"We have seen how their program teaches children and gives them an advantage with understanding technology and how it helps them achieve more as a group as opposed to just accelerating the opportunities for a select few," said Mike Perry. "To belong in a category that includes the names of Buck Harless, Lloyd Jackson and a fellow like Gov. Caperton, is just an honor I am delighted to share."

It's been more than 16 years since Caperton's second term as governor ended, but his initiatives to provide computers to classrooms throughout the state in the 1990s was a popular topic of conversation during the event.

Caperton's legacy was one Manchin said he worked to uphold during his term as the state's 34th governor.

West Virginia's rural landscape makes it all the more important that its children have access to a quality education, said Manchin, who was inducted into the hall in 2008.

"At the Harless Center, these students have access to technology developed by some of the best minds in the world. It's really unbelievable what they've been able to do," said Manchin. "No matter where you live, and especially with today's technology, everyone should have the opportunity for a quality education, and this is what the Harless Center does that is so exceptional."

For his part, Tomblin said education remains a key focus in the state, noting the passage of education reform during the most recent regular state legislative session.

The night marked a bit of historical significance for Tomblin, who was inducted into the hall in 2009. Spending the day with Caperton reminded him just how far the state has progressed during the past two decades, said Tomblin.

"When Caperton was elected, it was a very rough time for the state," said Tomblin. "I was a senator at the time, and I remember working with him to pay down all of the state's debts. I remember the great deal of emphasis he put on education, and making sure the state had access to technology. Of course, a lot of that technology has changed a great deal, but he was the one who worked to get that started in this state.

"Our main goal has been to maintain and improve on what was started then, and with this kind of resource at the Harless Center, I think we still are making strides today."

For more information about the June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development, visit www.marshall.edu/harless.



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