November 14, 2016


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 14, 2016 CONTACT: Kathy Hietala
Phone: (276) 619-4346
(Abingdon, VA) The Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center is hosting the eleventh annual STEM Workshops on Friday, November 18, 2016, for over 700 sixth-grade girls and their teachers from the counties of Washington, Smyth and Russell, and the City of Bristol. The purpose of the STEM Workshops is to introduce sixth graders to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through hands-on workshops led by female chemists, engineers, doctors, programmers, and other professionals from regional industries and colleges. These professionals emphasize the link between their education and the important jobs they perform today. They encourage the students to enroll in core STEM classes while they are in middle and high school.
For the second time, the keynote speaker for this year’s event is Patrice Banks, engineer and “sheCANic” (aka automotive technician). Banks is the founder and CEO of Girls Auto Clinic, a female empowerment business. Her dynamic presentation last year was so well-received and impactful that she was invited for a return engagement this year.
It is no secret that women generally do not understand vehicles—how they operate or how to maintain them. Most women do not have an interest or knowledge in cars and the automotive industry. Historically they have not been the primary group to which the automotive industry markets, despite the fact that more than half of their customers are women. Banks was once one of these women, a self-proclaimed “auto airhead.” She has created a business model which supports a need in the lives of millions of women: automotive services based on trust, education, inclusion, and empowerment.
Banks previously worked for more than 12 years as an engineer, manager, and leader at DuPont, a science and technology company. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Materials Engineering from Lehigh University and an Automotive Technology Diploma from Delaware Technical Community College, and is the author of the book The Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide. Banks has been featured on the CBS Morning News and presented a TEDx talk at Wilmington University. This year, Banks was nominated and personally selected to attend The United State of Women, hosted by the White House Council on Girls and Women in Washington, DC, in June. She was also featured in the Leap It section of the July issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. Banks’ star is on the rise, and students attending this year’s workshops have the unique opportunity to meet and hear her inspirational story.
Again this year students will be introduced to Iron Techtron, the Virginia Tech “robot” mascot created by student Jesse Johnson. Iron Techtron appears courtesy of Penny McCallum, Virginia Tech’s Southwest Site Director at the Higher Education Center.
The STEM conference is a partnership between the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, CGI, Eastman Chemical Company, General Dynamics, Thompson & Litton, and other regional firms. Joining them are faculty from Emory & Henry College, King College, Old Dominion University, Radford University, the University of Virginia, VCU’s Department of Nurse Anesthesia, Virginia Highlands Community College, and Virginia Tech.
Workshops are supported in part by financial contributions from Verizon, CGI, Eastman Chemical, and the Employee Community Action Council of General Dynamics. In addition, Food City donates bottled water for all participants—students, teachers, presenters, and volunteers—nearly 1,000 individuals. Anyone wishing to make a contribution to support the STEM workshops may do so by contacting Kathy Hietala at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center via phone at 276-619-4346 or by email at
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MISSION STATEMENT: The mission of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center is
to strengthen the regional economy of southwest Virginia by providing higher education and professional development training of the current and future workforce.