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July 13, 2015

Kettle Run grad wins U.S. technology essay contest

August Lutkehus finished second in the region and first in the state, earning a spot in Dallas for the national competition.
Writing under the pressure of time is always a good value to have, as you may be limited in time to write a report in the workplace. Also, being able to use a limited amount of resources and make the most out of them is an important skill when you don’t have the time to search through every possible source.
— August Lutkehus, who will study environmental engineering at N.C. State
By Karen Parkinson
Schools’ Coordinator of Information
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August Lutkehus, a 2015 Kettle Run High School graduate, won the “Essays on Technology” category at the National Technology Student Association Conference recently in Dallas.

More than 5,000 students participate in national conference, devoted to science, technology, engineering and mathematics beyond the classroom. This year’s conference took place June 28 through July 2.

“Winning at the national level was unreal for me,” Mr. Lutkehus said. “Even though I had an equal chance at winning as the other 60 to 70 people in my competition, receiving that first-place trophy did not seem realistic.

“It really was a dream come true, considering that my ‘opponents’ were all incredibly smart and all had advanced through regionals and states and were skilled at this competition.”

Just before the competition, the 18-year-old got a mild case of the jitters upon considering the caliber of his fellow competitors.

“The student next to me was a Colorado TSA state officer, which did not help my confidence while writing that essay,” Mr. Lutkehus said.

His goal was to be a top 10 finalist, which would mean recognition on stage.

“After they announced third place and second place, I waited to hear someone else’s name called and was shocked when they started saying ‘from Kettle Run High School, Virginia.’ It was a moment I will never forget,” Mr. Lutkehus said.

The “essays on technology” category involves students’ writing an impromptu, synthesis essay in favor of or against an assigned topic on a current technological topic after being given three to five sources. Competitors have 90 minutes to read the provided articles and write an essay with a five-page limit and a bibliography in MLA format. The topic for the national conference was the use of genetically modified foods and whether they should be grown or not.

“There is no way to prepare for the essay, except maybe to know how to correctly cite sources for the bibliography,” said Mr. Lutkehus. “Going into the regional competition, I did not know what to expect, but for states and nationals, my mindset was to write similarly in structure as the past ones.”

To reach the national contest, he placed second at the regional level in March and first at the state level in May. The top three at each level advance to the next level.

Competitors are not allowed to view each other’s essays or their own again after the competition. Unable to make comparisons, August said it is hard to judge why his essay won over others.

“I think the main reason my essay did as well as it did was that I used as much information as possible from the provided articles. I probably spent nearly more time reading the articles than writing the essay,” he said. “I had to read them all and find points for and against the topic and then decide if I was for or against.”

Next he said he had to create three main arguments and assign information from the articles to each argument.

“It’s always tedious,” Mr. Lutkehus said, “and leaves me a short amount of time to write the essay. But in each essay there are around 15 to 20 cited sentences throughout the body paragraphs to support my argument, and I believe those points worked together to help me win.”

Mr. Lutkehus said he originally chose to participate in the essays on technology category because he “really wanted to participate in something” and did not feel confident in other categories.

“I don’t mind writing essays, and each time I have one, I learn a lot from the articles and am more educated on real-world problems,” he said.

Mr. Lutkehus believes participating in the timed competition will be an asset to him as he moves forward in life.

“Writing under the pressure of time is always a good value to have, as you may be limited in time to write a report in the workplace. Also, being able to use a limited amount of resources and make the most out of them is an important skill when you don’t have the time to search through every possible source,” he said. “For me the best aspect is learning from those articles.

“I learn the different perspectives of an issue, and now I have my own viewpoints of these problems and have information I learned to back it up. It is always important to be educated on real-world issues.”

The son of Steve and Michelle Lutkehus, he will attend North Carolina State University to study environmental engineering. He would encourage any high school student to join TSA or ask the advisor or club president about it.

“I wish I had joined as a freshman instead of a junior because I have walked away with some incredible experiences,” he said.

Other local students compete at national level

Also competing at the national level were Liberty High School student John Thibodeau; Fauquier High School student Dana Lehman, and Kettle Run students Samuel Linton, Nathan Moravitz and Ashby Thompson.

John and Dana competed in the 2D computer-aided design (CAD) architectural competition where students have to create representations such as floor plans, elevation drawings and details of architectural ornamentation or cabinetry; they had won first and second place respectively at the state level in May. The KRHS students participated in the scientific visualization (SciVis) category after winning first place in the state; in this category students must develop a visualization focusing on a topic from a STEM area.

“The students enjoyed and learned from the experience,” said Karen Frye, career and technical education department chair at Kettle Run. “We are so proud of our students’ achievements and success.”

TSA faculty advisors are Bill Davidson and Ms. Frye at Kettle Run High School; Mike Potts, Jon Clark and Ashton Girolmo at Liberty High School, and Harold Mullins and Jamell Newman at Fauquier High School.

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