Governor’s School @ Innovation Park Prepares Future Scientists, Engineers

Posted: September 27, 2010 at 1:05 am, Last Updated: September 27, 2010 at 9:10 am

By Catherine Ferraro

Students give a presentation during the Governor's School @ Innovation Park boot camp. Photo courtesy of Karen Dalfrey

Applying to colleges. Shopping for prom attire. Texting their friends. Oh, and partnering with representatives from Lockheed Martin to create a prototype of an operating car motor.

For 64 high school students from Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William County, these tasks are all in a day’s work.

The car motor prototype is one example of a project that a group of high school juniors created during a week-long boot camp that prepared them for the Governor’s School @ Innovation Park.

The two-year program runs the duration of the academic year and offers selected students an advanced and intensive program in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The Governor’s School @ Innovation Park is a collaborative venture among Manassas City, Manassas Park City and Prince William County Public School systems in cooperation with Mason. This is the 19th governor’s school — offering the state’s most able students challenging programs beyond those offered in their home schools — in the commonwealth of Virginia and the first to be associated with a four-year university.

“The Governor’s School @ Innovation Park gives advanced students interested in the STEM fields a safe and structured environment to think outside of the box,” says Karen Dalfrey, the program director. “This program also allows students who have common interests and goals to act as aspiring engineers and scientists as they pose solutions to real-life problems.”

Karen Dalfrey, director of the Governor's School @ Innovation Park. Photo by David Kidd, Northern Virginia Technology Council

Students attend classes five days a week on Mason’s Prince William Campus each morning, then return to their base high schools in the afternoon to complete the rest of their classes. They have dual enrollment at their high schools and at Mason and potentially can earn up to 32 college credits. All courses are taught by experienced teachers from the Prince William County school system who underwent a vetting process to become affiliated with Mason.

In addition to getting set up as Mason students and being introduced to various aspects of campus life, the students hone their mathematical and scientific skills during the first couple of weeks of school. The group will focus on sustainability this year, so students went on a tour of the Prince William Campus to identify how Mason could become more environmentally friendly. The students took pictures and notes, then presented their ideas to the class.

This hands-on approach continues in the “Research, Application, Integration” (RAI) course offered each Tuesday and Thursday during the school year. In this class, students focus on topics ranging from leadership and public speaking skills to technical writing and research databases. In addition, students are given specific problems and asked to create an experiment that will help alleviate or solve the issue.

Following the RAI course, students will participate in a mentorship program and work with representatives from organizations in the Innovation Park area. Under their mentor’s guidance, students will choose a research topic, conduct research and design and carry out an experiment.

The other three days of the week, students are in a more traditional classroom setting where they learn advanced mathematics and sciences. Students may choose from three different science tracks — biology, chemistry or physics — and will take pre-calculus or calculus.

According to Dalfrey, the program will eventually accommodate up to 150 students (75 students per junior and senior grade level).

To be selected for the Governor’s School @ Innovation Park, students were required to submit an application that included a portfolio of their best work, awards and/or honors they have received related to a STEM field; a completed research project or research project design; two essays; and their academic transcripts.

For more information about the Governor’s School @ Innovation Park, contact Dalfrey at or 703-993-7027.

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