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ONA — West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee visited Cabell Midland High School on Friday to congratulate students on their success in a statewide advanced manufacturing competition.

Cabell Midland is one of two schools being recognized for excelling at the 2018 MakerMinded, a digital platform that challenges students to hone their skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The goal of the program is to get young adults thinking about entering the manufacturing industry, which is projected to create 3.5 million new jobs over the next decade.

Gee participated in an assembly at the school, telling students that Cabell Midland produces a lot of successful WVU graduates.

He also recalled his career, having served as WVU president in the 1980s before becoming president at the University of Colorado. He went on to be president of Ohio State University, Brown University and Vanderbilt University before retiring to teach at Harvard.

When the opportunity arose to return as president of WVU, Gee said he jumped at the chance. He wanted to detail his career so students understand they don't have to leave home to find decent employment.

"I want all of you to stay here. I wasn't smart enough to stay here; I moved around," Gee said. "We're going to make sure we create an educational system and have staying power."

For the MakerMinded program, students completed various activities with point values. Cabell Midland joined Tygarts Valley Middle/High School in Mill Creek, West Virginia, as the two schools with the most accumulated points.

Activities included job shadowing an industry professional, spending an hour coding and participating in a robotics competition.

For succeeding in the program, Cabell Midland High School will receive new robotics equipment to boost its STEM curriculum.

Friday's event was also new for the school: It was one of the first assemblies held to congratulate student academic achievement. Students said they felt as if academic success was taking a back seat to athletic success and pep rallies, said Kelly Daniels, the school's associate principal.

"We never really thought about that, unfortunately. We didn't think about what we were doing and how it was being perceived by them," Daniels said. "We are working on that."

Daniels promised students that Friday's academic assembly would not be the last.

MakerMinded launched in West Virginia in the fall of 2018 in partnership with LIFT and the U.S. Department of Defense's National Defense Education program. Its goal is to inspire more middle and high school students to consider advanced manufacturing careers.

Programs like MakerMinded help equip the next generation with the technical skills in demand at West Virginia's more than 1,000 manufacturers, which currently have more than 47,000 employees, according to the program's description.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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