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Sky Festival uses the stars to pique interest in science

HUNTINGTON — Madison Smith's love of science was developed through numerous hands-on field trips she took while in school in Charleston.

"Especially with kids, they are really hands-on and that's how they remember," said Smith, now a senior in Marshall University's College of Education and Professional Development. "Let them take ownership of their own learning. Let them question it without feeding them the information."

On Wednesday, Smith helped provide that experience for about 300 Cabell and Putnam county elementary school students during the CEPD's third annual Sky Festival on Huntington's campus.

CEPD, College of Science and other university departments staffed 16 activity stations, assisted by Huntington High School educators and local

television meteorologists Brandon Stover, Joseph Fitzwater and Andy Chilian.

Organizer Tina Cartwright, a CEPD professor, said students were introduced to a number of meteorology and astronomy topics, including moon phases, gravitational waves, a demonstration using drones, and building and launching rockets.

"We want to get students excited about science, teach them a little bit, but hopefully expose them to the beauty of Marshall's campus so hopefully they will be inspired to come back to Marshall and, ideally, go into a science," Cartwright said.

A focus on the stars and the sky is a great way to pique student interest into science because it stokes their natural curiosity about what they already observe, Cartwright said.

"Ultimately, I was inspired for my career choice from visiting the National Weather Service," Cartwright said. "Most of what we learn that sticks with us happens outside the classroom. That inspired me as a first-generation West Virginia native — neither of my parents went to college — to really think about it.

"That's what I told everybody: I wanted to be a meteorologist when I grew up. That's what I hope to facilitate for these kids when they come to campus, to be exposed to professionals in these careers and talk to them about how they became interested."

Rachel Spychalski, a CEPD senior from Parkersburg, West Virginia, said it can be hard to find the time to teach science in a hands-on way, which makes it difficult for children to develop a love of science.

"I heard some great questions just hearing them talk amongst each other that would make good research questions," she said.

Smith said she hopes the event fosters a love of science in girls specifically.

"We have such a low number of girls in our program," Smith said.

Smith and Spychalski said at a young age, boys are pushed more toward STEM because of gender stereotypes and the myth that males are more naturally science-minded. By middle school, studies show girls' confidence in STEM dramatically decreases.

Sky Fest is sponsored by the EPSCoR RII Track-1: Gravitational Wave Astronomy and the Appalachian Freshwater Initiative.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

President walks out on talks with Dems
Trump says he wants infrastructure, not 'phony investigations'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump abruptly stalked out of a White House meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, flatly declaring he would no longer work with Democrats unless they drop all investigations in the aftermath of the special counsel's Trump-Russia report.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it all "very, very, very strange" and said she was praying for Trump and the nation. Trump tweeted his thanks for her prayers but said he would not proceed down two tracks — investigation and legislation.

Democrats said his ultimatum seemed scripted, with signs declaring his innocence already prepared for his outdoor remarks that followed. Yet Trump's unease with congressional oversight and talk of what he called the "i-word" — impeachment — now threatens to deprive him of legislative accomplishments for the remainder of his term.

The scene playing out live on television was reminiscent of earlier ones at the White House, including during the federal government shutdown, when Trump walked out on Democrats. While this standoff could benefit him politically in the short term, with his tough talk stirring up supporters, it leaves his trade deals, a new budget and other goals in jeopardy as he heads into a re-election campaign. Democrats called it another Trump temper tantrum.

"I want to do infrastructure," Trump said he told Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, noting the scheduled topic of the meeting.

"But you know what? We can't do it under these circumstances," he said he told them. "So get these phony investigations over."

Without ever shaking anyone's hand, or even taking a seat, Trump turned and left the three-minute meeting. He strode to the Rose Garden where reporters and TV cameras had been assembled and proceeded to

assail the Democrats, particularly Pelosi for her comment earlier in the morning on Capitol Hill that she believed the president was engaged in a "cover-up" of the Russia probe.

"I don't do cover-ups," Trump fumed.

Back on Capitol Hill, Pelosi said Trump "just took a pass" on working on national infrastructure problems.

Flanked by Schumer and other House and Senate leaders, Pelosi said the Democrats had gone to the White House "to give this president the opportunity to have a signature infrastructure initiative."

The meeting had been set weeks ago, after Trump and the Democratic leaders agreed to talk further about a possible $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. Democrats have been working with the president's daughter Ivanka, and Trump was due to provide his ideas on how to pay for it.

But he told them he couldn't engage on infrastructure because Pelosi said "something terrible," according to an administration official and another person familiar with what happened in the room.

Democrats said they doubted he actually was ever going to put forward a plan. Schumer — who brought his own 35-page proposal to the meeting — said that when Trump "was forced to say how he would pay for it he had to run away."

What started as a challenging day for Pelosi, as she tries to tamp down growing calls for an impeachment inquiry, swiftly turned, with the attention going back on the president. Even some Republicans noted the shift.

"In the end we've got work to do," said Sen. John Cornyn, who called the meeting dramatic. "And I think the best thing we could do for the people we work for is to try to make progress where we can."

Earlier Wednesday, House Democrats had convened for a closed-door meeting amid Trump's stonewalling of their investigators, as a growing number of the party's lawmakers say they want to open an impeachment inquiry. They say it's not necessarily aimed at removing the president from office but to bolster their position in court against his blocking their probes with broad claims of immunity. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York spoke up at the meeting, and some two dozen Democrats have signed on to the idea.

With her leadership team, Pelosi, who has resisted pressure to impeach, suggested patience. She pointed rank-and-file Democrats toward the legal battles that she said have already found success in forcing Trump to comply with investigations.

"We do believe it's important to follow the facts," Pelosi told reporters afterward. "We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up."

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the White House cannot block subpoenas for Trump's financial records from Deutsche Bank, which has lent his real estate company millions of dollars. On Monday a federal judge also ruled against Trump in a separate financial records dispute with Congress, though his team filed a notice of appeal that is expected to keep the court battles running for months.

Pelosi said the court victories were "no surprise."

The Democrats leaving that Capitol meeting appeared to be taking hers words into consideration, even as many say the march to impeach becomes more inevitable. Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, who called for the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, said he could see both sides.

Of leaders' reluctance, Cohen said "it's a political concern rather than an actual constitutional one."

Rep. Katie Hill, a freshman from a California swing district, said she is undecided on starting an impeachment inquiry but wants to let the court action play out.

The more Trump "defies us, the more that it's becoming an inevitability," she said. But she doesn't think the Democratic caucus "is there yet."

Pelosi faces her own political calculations amid the push-pull of impeachment. While Democrats have a majority in the House, and would likely find support for starting impeachment proceedings, it could be a tighter vote than the 235-197 margin suggests. Many lawmakers come from relatively conservative districts where Trump also has support.

Democrats have long said they can work on two tracks — conducting oversight and legislating on their agenda of lower health care costs and infrastructure investment. But Trump says they can't do both.

"They can continue the Witch Hunt ... or get back to work," Trump tweeted.

Pelosi showed no signs of backing down.

"The fact is, in plain sight, in the public domain, this president is obstructing justice and he's engaged in a cover-up, and that could be impeachable," Pelosi said during an event later at the liberal Center for American Progress.

"As they say, the cover-up is frequently worse than the crime," she said. She reminded that the third article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon was his obstruction of Congress.

37 million expected to hit the road Memorial Day weekend

HUNTINGTON — Jim Davis says each year on the Friday before Memorial Day, his family takes their first small vacation of the year to North Carolina to visit relatives.

"It's a three-day weekend for me anyway, but I take off Friday, too, so we can have an extra day to drive and hopefully avoid some of the traffic," he said.

Davis will be one of the estimated 37.6 million Americans traveling by automobile, according to the annual AAA Memorial Day Travel Forecast.

INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion Thursday, May 23, and Friday, May 24, in the late afternoon as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.

Overall, nearly 43 million Americans are expected to start their summers with a Memorial Day weekend getaway, according to the AAA forecast.

This year is expected to see the second-highest volume since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000. Overall, an additional 1.5 million people will take to the nation's roads, rails and runways compared with last year, a 3.6% increase nationwide, according to AAA.

"Following a long winter, Americans are excited to take advantage of a strong economy with a well-deserved vacation," said Jim Lehman, president of AAA East Central. "Summer vacations are the best way to create lifelong memories with families and friends."

Currently, gasoline prices on average in West Virginia are $2.694 per gallon, which is below the national average that is inching closer to the $3 per gallon mark.

Though travelers may be paying more at the pump, some of that cost could be made up in other ways, like car rental prices and hotels. According to AAA, car rental prices have declined 7% from last year, with an average daily rate of $55. Midrange hotels are between 2 and 3% cheaper this year, with an average nightly rate of $146 and $183, respectively, as well.

AAA says it expects to be called on to rescue more than 353,000 motorists at the roadside this Memorial Day weekend. Dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts will be the leading reasons motorists will experience car trouble.

AAA recommends motorists take their vehicles to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out on a road trip. Be prepared for emergencies with a mobile phone and car charger, a flashlight with extra batteries, a first-aid kit, a basic toolkit, and drinking water and snacks for all passengers.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.