Celebrating its fifth year, the SOVA Career Choice Youth Expo, organized by the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in partnership with area K-12 Career and Technical Directors, attracted 4,106 middle and high school students from seven localities—one of the largest crowds yet. Students enjoyed the opportunity to interact with more than 50 employers from a wide array of career sectors to learn about occupational opportunities available to them in Southern Virginia. For the first time, an “Expo in the Evening” preview event was open to the public the night preceding the student days. 

“Successful talent development starts with early exposure of our youth to the career opportunities and businesses right here in Southern Virginia,” said Dr. Julie Brown, IALR’s Director of Advanced Learning. “We are fortunate to benefit from the collaborative efforts, time and energy of a remarkable group of volunteers, school districts, employers, sponsors and staff members like Jessie Vernon, who spearheaded much of the Expo’s planning and implementation efforts.”

An award-winning event, the Expo has been replicated in Southwest Virginia and Richmond. Each year, middle and high school students are engaged in hands-on activities led by employers to help them explore career choices. Schools within the Virginia communities of Danville and Martinsville and the counties of Halifax, Henry, Mecklenburg, Patrick and Pittsylvania participated in this year’s event. 

“It’s so important to give them this kind of exposure as early as possible,” said Frances Bradford, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Education, who traveled from Richmond to attend the event. 

Virginia Deputy Secretary of Education, Frances Bradford, with IALR Advanced Learning Director, Dr. Julie Brown

The Expo showcases existing job opportunities each year so that students will have an option to stay in the region, based on an informed career decision with a clear understanding of skills needed, education levels required and salaries they can expect. The event remains an intentional effort to build a pipeline of students in strategic sectors that are aligned with economic development interests, including advanced manufacturing, healthcare, cybersecurity/IT-related fields and others.

Platinum-level sponsors of the event included the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, Averett University, Goodyear, Piedmont Access to Health Services, the Danville Regional Foundation, The Harvest Foundation, Microsoft and J.T. - Minnie Maude Charitable Trust. Silver sponsors included Eastman, MedExpress and Centra Health.   

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Combined Total of $60,000 Available for Precision Machining Students

The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) is pleased to announce Dr. J. Scott Lowman has been named Director of Applied Research. Lowman, previously Chief Scientist at IALR, joined the organization in 2014, and, among other projects, has most notably championed work in biotechnology and advanced imaging to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability. Dr. J. Scott Lowman

“We are extremely fortunate to have benefited from Scott’s talents and expertise over the years, and I’m excited about the future of our Applied Research division under his leadership,” said Mark Gignac, Executive Director for IALR. “From precision agriculture to advanced materials and analytical chemistry, I’m confident Scott and his team will continue producing exceptional work to help improve and inform industry’s research and development efforts, a vital part of our region’s economic transformation.”

An Altavista native and alumnus of Virginia Tech and the College of William and Mary, Lowman’s research has focused on two primary areas, biotechnology and advanced imaging. Lowman’s team seeks to identify promising natural microbial bio-stimulant and bio-control agents (including beneficial plant bacteria, or endophytes) to increase plant growth and health while protecting the environment. His team also uses the latest technology in unmanned aerial vehicles, multispectral and thermal imaging and robotics to improve plant productivity. 

In recognition of his work, Lowman was named a 2017 Outstanding Recent Graduate Alumnus at Virginia Tech and was presented the Commonwealth Environmental Leadership Award from the Waldorf Foundation. Lowman recently played an integral role in IALR’s recent licensure of a collection of endophytes to Indigo Ag, Inc., a leading company dedicated to harnessing nature to help farmers sustainably feed the planet. He has helped lead efforts to produce a library of more than 1,500 characterized endophytes, which continues to grow.

Before earning his Ph.D., Lowman spent eight years as an entrepreneur and businessman in the pharmaceutical industry and as a co-founder of Lynchburg Grows, a seven-acre non-profit urban farm in Lynchburg, Va., that provides space for individuals with special needs to learn job skills while growing produce. Now in its 15th year of operation, Lynchburg Grows continues to provide unique services through urban agriculture, including feeding more than 100 families per week in their community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, donating gleaned food to area food banks, employing individuals with special needs, and purchasing vegetables from area farmers.

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